In a New Orleans Times-Picayune review of Cochon, the Stephen Stryjewski–Donald Link full-tilt Cajun restaurant, critic Brett Anderson gave what may be the highest compliment to these devotees of the pig. “Yes, the dining room is loud. Yours would be too, if you knew how to make a ham hock sing.”

That, Stryjewski does, and the James Beard Foundation awarded him its Best Chef/South distinction in 2011—not only for Cochon and Cochon Butcher (the artisanal meat market where the chef’s house-made andouille, boudin, and other assorted charcuterie are on offer), but also for Pêche, Stryjewski and Link’s love letter to Gulf seafood, often cooked over a wood fire. “I love the community feel of having a whole fish hit the table with everyone sharing, and because grouper and snapper populations are rebounding, we can easily get bigger fish,” Stryjewski told organization Share the Gulf.

Being an “Army brat,” born in Kansas to a family that moved frequently from post to post, Stryjewski had a chance to taste a lot of regional cooking. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he expanded his world by traveling and tasting his way across Europe, then doing stints back in the United States at Napa Valley’s Tra Vigne, D.C.’s Vidalia Restaurant, and, in New Orleans, at the storied Commander’s Palace. But when he hit the line at Donald Link’s French-American restaurant Herbsaint, great chemistry happened.

The pair went on to co-own Cochon, in 2006, an homage to Link’s Cajun roots and Stryjewski’s way with all things pork, and later, to a Lafayette outpost of Cochon, along with Pêche, in 2013, back in the New Orleans Warehouse District. Local farms and fishermen and women supply most of the ingredients on the menu, from ’gator to grouper to rice.

And, just in case the restaurants weren’t enough to occupy Stryjewski and Link, the two joined a gaggle of other New Orleans chefs to form a competition barbecue team (taking third prize in the 2011 Memphis in May BBQ event). The team’s specialty? Cooking the whole hog.