Louisiana native Donald Link doesn’t subscribe to the old adage that you can’t go home again. Although Link headed west in the 1990s, to attend the California Culinary Academy and work his way around San Francisco restaurants such as Traci Des Jardins’s acclaimed Jardinière, he was thrilled to go home again (twice), each time upping his game in the kitchen. A 1997 externship at chef Susan Spicer’s Bayona, in New Orleans, kicked off a re-emergence with Link’s deeply southern roots.
In 2000, again with Spicer, Link launched French-American bistro Herbsaint onto the New Orleans Warehouse District scene. More than a decade later, the Times Picayune called Herbsaint “one of the quintessential southern restaurants of its generation.”
“The region is in my DNA,” says Link, the 2007 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef/South, who grew up in Cajun country, where his great-grandparents had been rice farmers, and his grandparents taught him how to cook up rich gumbos and smothered pork. In Link’s 2009 cookbook, Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana, he says, “My most cherished, most powerful food memories involve two ingredients: rice and pork. They’re both crucial to Cajun cooking, and while I can’t imagine one without the other, no single food embodies the spirit and culture of southwest Louisiana better than the mighty pig.”
Link’s ode to the pig, Cochon, the restaurant he opened in 2006 with chef-partner Stephen Stryjewski, was named by The New York Times “one of the top three restaurants that count.” At Cochon, Link and Stryjewski dove deep into house-made boudin, andouille, and a raft of other charcuterie, eventually opening the casual artisanal meat market/wine bar Cochon Butcher, and a Cochon outpost in nearby Lafayette.
The pair has now given Gulf seafood its due at restaurant Pêche, in the Warehouse District, which won the 2014 James Beard Foundation award for Best New Restaurant. And Link this year published his second cookbook, Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything. This is one chef who’s not leaving home again anytime soon.