Chris "Shaggy" Davis hails from Chicago, but for more than 20 years he has made his living from traditional Louisiana outdoor cooking. His company Shaggy's Boil Inc. (504-259-0828; www.nolacrawfishking.com) caters crawfish and crab boils and cochon de lait-style pig roasts. His list of regular clients includes many local and nationally touring musicians, and each June he ends crawfish season by catering a backstage boil for musicians and crew at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee.
How did a Chicago native like you get into this line of work?
Davis: I was following the (Grateful) Dead back in 1991 and literally just broke down in New Orleans. I ended up getting an apartment and I got into seafood. I'd have a boil every weekend, just 15 people and a keg of beer. It was just these hippie kids and then all the neighbors would come over. We ended up doing boils on 17 consecutive weekends and eventually someone would ask if I could do one at their place for a little money. That's how it started, and now I'm doing boils pretty much constantly through June. Last year I did 35,000 pounds of crawfish.
Do you have to tailor your boils for out-of-town clients?
D: Sometimes people will email and ask for a crawfish broil. They don't understand it's a boil. Or people from areas where they steam crabs, they'll hear we boil them and think that's the stupidest thing. I love steamed crabs when I'm up on the East Coast, but boiling is better. It's just juicier. So you have to explain these things. My own backyard boil? It's spicy as hell. I want to feel it. Get some Chinese red pepper up there. But with a client, you can't necessarily do that.
Is there a connection between crawfish and partying?
D: These days I'm sober — two years, four months — but every single job I pull up to the first question is always, "Hey man, do you want a beer?" Crawfish and cold beer just go together. When I used to do boils for bars, the whole thing was the guys at the bar would say, "Make them as hot as you can so people drink more beer." — IAN MCNULTY