Chef Jean Paul Bourgeois grew up behind the boudin curtain, south of I-10 in Lousiana, always only minutes from the marsh. He remembers killing his first duck with a crack-barrel 20-gauge, a rite of passage into a circle of giants that acted differently in a duck blind than elsewhere. He remembers, too, making “happy plates” of local home-made cuisines his parents cooked and taught him to cook. Realizing later in life why those giants acted differently in the blind and how the soulful influence of regional cuisine improves the human spirit, he merged the two into a “real world” lifestyle now shared with the world via social media and Duck Camp Dinners. Like a best-you-ever-had, meat-heavy gumbo you can stand a spoon up in, this delicious episode will stick to your ribs for a very long time. Dig in!
Duck Camp Dinners Chef Jean Paul Bourgeois
I think evolution is necessary and part of one’s life span and one thing that has always stuck with me is food and cooking. And ever since I was 8 or 9 years old, when I went on my first duck hunt with my dad that seems to have stuck with me as well.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, I’m still at the Delta Waterfowl Expo. If you all missed it, you all should have been here, schedule it for next year. But I am sitting in the Duck Camp Dinners booth with chef John Paul Bourgeois who probably is my favorite Instagram account in the world. I’m going to tell you, I keep up with you religiously and I always have.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Man, that’s awesome to hear, especially coming from somebody like you because honestly I told you this last night, you’re my favorite account to follow, mostly out of like a little bit of jealousy, excuse me, a little out of jealousy, I should say, but mostly out of just like pure admiration for your love of duck hunting. And I think that’s why before I ever knew you before I ever heard, before I ever read a word you ever wrote, which again, great writing, I saw you being this passionate duck hunter that just loved the pursuit. And I was like, that’s a dude I can get behind.
Ramsey Russell: I’m flattered as I can possibly be, Chef, I really truly am. A lot of what you do and the way you present yourself in these duck camp dinner films and on your Instagram account, it appeals to what I most love about duck hunting, which hey, I’m all out there to pull the trigger, don’t get me wrong, I am not ever out there to watch the sun rise, I’m going to shoot a duck when he comes in. But if you remove everything else but that, I don’t need a bunch of dead ducks, there’s nothing to it, that’s not the magic that draws me into it. And that’s what I think you do better than anybody else. Who the hell is Chef Jean Paul, who are you? I have no idea.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Man, I don’t know. Some ways, I’m still trying to figure that out, but I think that’s a good thing. I think evolution is necessary and part of one’s life span and one thing that has always stuck with me is food and cooking. And ever since I was 8 or 9 years old, when I went on my first duck hunt with my dad that seems to have stuck with me as well. And life happens, life revolves around certain things maybe it’s work, maybe it’s family, but those two food and duck hunting have always been a constant in my life. Really, man, I’m a small town boy from Thibodaux, Louisiana, I’ve lived all around the world, I’ve worked all around the world. But home is always in Louisiana no matter what. And I try to cook for people, man. I think that with the emergence of social media and other types of platforms, we’ve gotten really caught up on what food looks like, how much egg yolk you can get popped on it. But really, I want to always remember that like we cook for people and I’m a chef, I don’t just cook for myself, I cook for my wife, I cook for my kid, I cook for other people here, we’re at the Delta Waterfowl Expo be cooking for people this weekend and never lose sight of that. And I don’t know who I am, that’s a complicated question, I guess.
Where the Story All Began
And I think that’s one of the beautiful things about where I grew up in South Louisiana in 15 minutes, you could be at a boat launch in 25 minutes you can be in a duck blind from your bed.
Ramsey Russell: Well, let’s start with this. You’re from Thibodaux, Louisiana, have you always duck hunted? It’s in your genetics down there, duck hunting and fishing. Can you talk about your origins in duck hunting?
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Sure. Well, my dad was a big duck hunter. We grew up in Labadieville in Thibodeaux and really small towns and parishes, he was a lawyer and I always remembered him getting up early in the morning before I could go hunting and him going hunting and then being in court by 9 o’clock. And I think that’s one of the beautiful things about where I grew up in South Louisiana in 15 minutes, you could be at a boat launch in 25 minutes you can be in a duck blind from your bed. And you can say the same with fishing, whether it’s where we grew up in Louisiana, whether it’s fresh water or salt water in 25 minutes, you can be there on the water following your pursuit. And I took that for granted growing up in Louisiana, now I live in Texas and it takes me 3 hours to go hunt anywhere and I’m jealous of my friends back home that can literally get out of bed hunt in 20 minutes and come back and that’s just the area that we grew up in. That’s why my dad was able to be in court by 9 o’clock in his suit and tie, doing his thing with going hunting first. And so once I turned of age to – I remember my first youth shotgun, I bought it was a pump 20 gauge and it was still like a little too heavy for me to really like, safely maneuver. So I got a little crack barrel 20 gauge and that’s what I started hunting with when I was like, 8 years old or so in the blind with my dad and his friends. And I just remember, man, like some of my dad’s best friends and some of the times I remember my dad laughing the hardest was in the duck blind with his friends. And here I am just an 8 or 9, 10 year old little boy just like taking all that in and seeing his connection with his friends and that’s just stuck with me, man. Like you said, duck comes in the hole, we’re going to pop off one, but it isn’t a lot fun that we can do it with our best friends and our family by our sides and all have that laugh together.
Ramsey Russell: Life happens between the volleys.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Yes, sir.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: There’s a ring neck on the water, but I remember my first like mountable bird and at the time in Louisiana, redheads were rare where we were hunting. Now, you’ll see redheads and canvasbacks that have come in with the other diver species, quite a bit and I remember that’s when I was like – and I remember it because I remember my dad and his friend’s reaction shooting a redhead out here. Because a lot of times it was – back in the day I remember a good amount of blue wing teal, always a lot of ring necks and a little more wigeons back in those times and wood ducks as I recall but that redhead was special and we still have the mound it’s at my parents’ house. But yeah, I remember that first duck, but I remember the reaction around it better. I remember the feeling around that first duck and that first mountable redhead.
Ramsey Russell: What was that feeling?
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Pride. It was pride that like I got to do what my dad and his friends were doing, part of the club, that badge of honor –
Ramsey Russell: Had your chest swell out a little bit.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Yeah. Like, it’s funny because I remember all my dad’s friends being these gigantic people, like just tall, big men. But now, I mean, I’m a 300lbs man, 6’1, 6’2 and I’m much bigger than my dad and much bigger than my dad’s friends these days. But I remember like seeing these like gigantic men that were laughing and having fun with each other in duck blind and being out there and going through the kind of grind of getting out there that could be like push, pulling through big thick lili. Because at that time, there wasn’t even surface drives like they were just – my dad had a little mud boat that he called the little man, that’s what he named and it had like a little 5 horsepower, I don’t know, Briggs and Stratton or something on it, it was a flat bottom wooden pirogue that was rigged up with a little in board and a prop and that was what I remember hunting in first and we would take that boat and pull behind a canoe that would have decoys and gear in it and take like a 40 minute. I mean, because you only go so fast in that thing with 2 men and a child and somebody and pulling gear back and so that’s what we took duck hunting, now that I think about it is, I know that drive from that launch to where we’re hunting now. Well, in a gator tail, it’s a 10 minute drive in a gator tail. So it took a while to get out that. And you remember that grind because that boat couldn’t go through those thick lies that have choked up a lot of Louisiana. You had to get out on hard ground and pull or push, pull and my dad would be cursing and frustrated, but as soon as he hit that blind, it was all good times and fun, I don’t know. It’s one of those things that have always stuck with me, maybe that’s what I chase, maybe it’s not actually ducks, maybe that’s not the real pursuit. Maybe I’m just constantly trying to find that little Jean Paul that was in that duck blind with those giants.
Ramsey Russell: Maybe that’s what we’re all chasing.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Maybe so. I think that might be reserved for the Lord above me, that’s really the table, the blind we want to be in and that’s really the giant there. We may be trying to search for all these people and all these communities and all this and that to be a part of, but the real one is the Lord above and that’s where we’re going, that’s the giant we need to be pursuing. But we fill in the blanks on earth with our friends and our family and for me and for you, it’s at the dinner table and the duck blind.
Ramsey Russell: Boy, that’s a damn good answer. What happened to those ducks you all hunted? Did your dad cook them? Did your mom cook them?
Jean Paul Bourgeois: We cooked all of them.
Ramsey Russell: Who was the cook, the mom or the dad?
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Both of my parents were great cooks. My dad cooked the game and cooked on Saturdays and Sundays, my mom cooked Monday through Friday, home cooked meals all the time. I never remember a pizza box, a box of fried chicken, I never remember any of that on the table, it was always what we ate. And then for a long time, I remember not liking duck, it was a little too gamey for me, it was tough. In Louisiana, we cook down our ducks, very rarely or we are mid rare, medium kind of slicing duck breast, first of all, we don’t get fat mallards in Louisiana with the exception of a couple of places. And so we’re hunting ducks that a lot of times we want to cook down in a gravy, that could be a gumbo, that could be a sauce, that’s what my dad did really well, he’s a great cook. And we would pluck and clean the birds right in the boat launch on the back of the boat and throw the guts to the alligators at the launch and we’d roll out with clean ducks in hand. And one of the things that my dad did a lot because we didn’t have a fishing boat, we didn’t have a deer lease, we didn’t own property, we had a mud boat and we had a lease to duck hunt and so we shot a lot of ducks back in there. I mean, I just have freezers full of them, but we would trade, we would trade duck meat for our neighbor who hunted deer but didn’t duck hunt. And so we were able to barter, have this little community barter system where some people went off the boats to go tuna fishing and wahoo fishing, which you can easily do in Louisiana. And so we would trade duck meat for seafood or fish or deer meat or boar or rabbits or squirrel. And so, after all that bartering was done, you look in the freezer and dated squirrel from who, boar from who, ducks from who, fish from who and vice versa, those people had our ducks in the freezer and we’re able to do that. And I think that’s another thing about Louisiana, there’s such a pursuit for all different specimens, waterfowl or otherwise is that there’s likely a friend or somebody down the street or a neighbor that does something you don’t do, that would love to have some ducks, but just don’t have the resources or don’t have the opportunity to do it and so you really kind of build that community system that way.
Making a Happy Plate for Life
As a profession, I decided that I was going to pursue becoming a chef when I went to college.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I tell you what, growing up eating all that home cooking you just described, no wonder you’re 6’5ft tall, 300lbs. When do you decide to go down the road to cooking? I mean, when did that aspire to you?
Jean Paul Bourgeois: So my parents always, they encouraged me to make a happy plate is what they would call it, now it was a clean plate, a happy plate. And they would applaud me for making a happy plate probably has a little something to do with why I overeat, but we’ll leave that for another subject. As a profession, I decided that I was going to pursue becoming a chef when I went to college. I had gone, like you have to sign up for some major when you go for orientation and most kids don’t know what that is, I put down psychology and I went to a psych orientation quickly realized, although I found the human brain fascinating the way people respond to different mechanisms and so on, I like all that I can geek out to that, but I don’t want to be that as a profession, I realized that during that orientation, but they had a culinary school there. And I remember looking at it, walking on campus and saying, man, I’ve always been a good cook and that’s true, I’ve been cooking for a long time. I mean, like at my parents’ side, like legit cooking with them, I don’t know, 10 years old, I was very fond, vivid memories of cooking with them, so I’ve always done that. Every duck camp I’ve ever been to whether I was at culinary school or not, I was the cook, every fishing camp, every this and that, I was the one digging in the freezer, digging in the pantry trying to put together something out of nothing. And when I saw that culinary school, I was like, well, I like cooking, I’m good at it, I enjoy doing it for people, maybe I can make a career out of that. And that was really in 2002 when I decisively said that seemed like a good idea. But I’ve always been in some capacity immersed in food and I think that’s just natural coming from Louisiana. I mean, as much as being a sportsman as part of being from Louisiana, the food is the soul of it and you grow up in a community in a state like that where people value the effort it took to get food from one place to another and on this table and share it with anybody that walks through the back door, that’s the kind of house I grew up in, everything cooked from scratch and if I had friends, my sister had friends, my dad had friends, I walked in through the back door to say hello and visit, they were going to have a plate too, there was always room at the table. Even if there wasn’t room, there was room. And that was the house I grew up in, that was a community I grew up in, it’s been ingrained in me from a very young age and I responded to it at a very young age, I saw it positively affect people every day myself included and positively reflect the people around me. And when you grow up like that, the old cliche like I didn’t choose it, it chose me, well, that starts to make a lot of sense. I’m a son of the Bayou state and it’s hard, all these guys right here from Houma, hell of a cooks and they didn’t go to culinary school, but they grew up in a community that valued it in a way that is going to force you to be a good cook or at least interested in it.
Ramsey Russell: And what you’re talking about, being a son of Bayou country south of I10, I traveled the whole world and I’ve never been anywhere else in the world south of I10 between home and Lake Charles, that there’s anything like that.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: When you talk to a lot of food historians and stuff like that or just people like food writers and so on, they’ll look at that section of I10 from Mississippi to Texas, south of I10, we call the Cajun Coastline, that’s kind of like how we decipher. The coastline is I10 and south essentially, even though you might be an hour, hour and a half from the coast in that way. But we call that the Cajun Coastline, I have a friend that calls that the Boudin Curtain and Scott McGee calls it the Boudin Curtain, which makes a lot of sense when you look at all the meat markets and that comes along I10. But anyways, yeah, those food drivers would say that’s one of the last true regional cuisines of America and if you think about that, just marinade on that a little bit and you’re like, well, what about like New England food? And I was like, well, you’re talking about 4 states, I’m talking like true regional cuisine of America. And that happens I10 and South along, in between the borders of Louisiana. And people love Louisiana but they go to New Orleans they fly into New Orleans, they stay 3 days, they have way too much fun and they fly out and when people come to Louisiana commonly say go to New Orleans, have your fun carve out 3 days to rent a car and just go west and just touch these little towns, go to little – if you respond to food in any way, whether that’s from a historical point of view, you just like eating it or you want to learn more about it, like you need to travel the Cajun coastline of Louisiana. New Orleans is great, obviously, one of the best cuisines in America, best food scenes in America, but those little towns that in Terrebonne Parish and Lafourche Parish and Plaquemines and Kalkasho and Cameron and Saint Mary’s and all that stuff, they all have very – like where we grew up, it’s coastal Cajun cooking. So we have a lot of seafood gumbos, a lot of shrimp folding into our dish, a lot of crab, a lot of crawfish obviously, when you get out west, you have a little bit less of that, it gets to more like a lot of the old school Prairie Cajun cooking of the butcheries, it’s the cracklings on every corner. It’s as the darling of Cajun food is what I call Boudin.
Ramsey Russell: But even when you talk regional cuisine, it gets deeper than that and I’ll throw Boudin and gumbo up as examples, I mean, shop to shop, it is different. One Boudin ain’t all Boudin.
The Darling of Cajun Food: Boudin
But crawfish we invented and the reason why we invented crawfish Boudin is because we’re coastal Cajuns, shrimp Boudin, like folding in these different things into it.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Yeah, well I think that because of Louisiana’s history and how it was founded through the French, Spanish, Italian Germans, native Americans, the creole, the Africans, they’ve all played their part in that food history, in that food culture. And even through I10, whether you’re going from New Orleans all the way to Cameron parishes, all those little towns in between have a little different version of this dish, that you’re talking about, gumbo, arts Boudin and you name it. And yeah, I say I10 is that true last regional cuisine, but even as I’m speaking in the micros, when you go into these little towns, they all have their own regional cuisine. And that has a lot to do with the last names. When you look at a phone book or when you had a phone book in these towns, the last names told you a lot about what you might be seeing. If you saw Schneider or a lot of Schneiders or German last names, you might see more sausage places, you might see more German influence in the food. If you saw where I’m from, though it’s a different Cajun name, that’s like a real kind of Cajun name, they look at food a little differently. Now, even Louisianans don’t decipher it and break it down like I am and maybe it’s not even worth it. But I’m a food geek and so, I really want to try to understand which is why I travel all over the place, I really want to try to understand like, why is this different in Thibodeaux than it is in the west? Like where I grew up, we kind of started, we didn’t make Boudin and coastal Cajun country like we didn’t popularize Boudin, that’s the west side of Louisiana, that’s the hard core Cajun Prairies. But crawfish we invented and the reason why we invented crawfish Boudin is because we’re coastal Cajuns, shrimp Boudin, like folding in these different things into it. So every little town, yes, I10 like, that’s a big span of Louisiana, small little part of the country, last regional cuisine, but all those little towns have those family influences, family and by family, I mean, like the larger umbrella of the Schneiders family or there’s a lot of Sicilians and older and Italians that moved back in the day to Louisiana. Like for some reason you see a lot of Italian influence in Saint Mary’s Parish for whatever reason and New Orleans, like New Orleans, Saint Mary’s Paris and it seems to skip a lot in between, but it looks like a stronghold of like Sicilian Italian Cajun food that happens there. So you get into those little nooks and crannies and you can discover a lot, even when you grow up there, you discover a lot.
What Makes a Proper Gumbo?
That can result in fist fights in some communities.
Ramsey Russell: How to make a proper gumbo, what goes in a gumbo? What doesn’t go in a gumbo? That can result in fist fights in some communities.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: You talk to somebody from New Orleans, they’re putting tomato okra shrimp, they may not even be using a roux and it’s a different type of gumbo than we make at the duck camp. Our duck camp gumbos, big thick dark roux, we don’t want to be trawling for meat, so it’s always like a big meaty gumbo. We don’t want to have to scoop around looking for this, looking at that, like when you get a scoop of gumbo at our duck camp, like that’s the meal dawg and we’re at the camp and it’s cold and a lot of times we’re cooking outside, so the things we cook are a little more sturdy, they’re a little more substantial than what you might have in New Orleans. And plus like New Orleans has a large African influence into its culinary culture and so that’s where you get all the okra that’s being used and so on and tomatoes being used in some of those Creole style gumbos much different from a Cajun style gumbo.
Louisiana Conservation Efforts
And again, some of the projects I’m working on better shed light on that because people don’t understand that the Mississippi River being levied off from the north to the south is not just affecting the Mississippi Delta in Louisiana and all that coastal area, it will affect everything in this country.
Ramsey Russell: That’s interesting. Where did you go to chef school?
Jean Paul Bourgeois: I went to school at John Fosle Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. And back in the day when I was there, John Fosle himself taught us Cajun Creole cuisine, the class of Cajun Creole cuisine. Obviously, he has the encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole cuisine and he has a wild game cookbook, he has a fishing cookbook and so on, they’re big coffee table cook cookbooks, you’ve seen them. But talk about an ambassador for Louisiana cooking and he’s better do it from the Vatican to the White House to and everywhere in between, he’s been a great advocate for the state for a long time. I know him pretty well, he’s an incredible guy and so generous with his time and I don’t know if there is another Louisianan that can take his place at the moment. Like, none of us live forever and he’s getting older and you start to think like who’s going to be that next champion for the state and for the food. And as you just nodded to me right now and that’s a lot of the reason why even though I don’t live in Louisiana currently, I tell you like, that’s where I’ll probably feel like for the rest of my life that I need to repay the debt that I owe to that state for giving me everything that it has given me. And so maybe that’s why I always feel like that’s my home is because I want to always be a champion for it. That’s why I’m trying to do a lot of different work in the coastal conservation efforts and to saltwater intrusion efforts and to building new infrastructure through grasslands and deltas and pumping sediment from here to then to start building deltas that Mississippi is not giving back to us anymore, that was the other thing I really wanted to be into, I’m better cooked than I am a scientist. So I leave that to scientists to figure out. But there’s some stuff that I’m working on right now that hopefully is going to better bring a lot of light to those conservation efforts that Louisiana needs so well. And the conservation efforts is not – and it’s funny like Louisiana, the duck habitats and the people, we share a lot of those same habitats. Like I told you, 15 minutes and we’re at a boat launch 20 minutes, we’re in the duck blind and now that’s all marshy land that you can’t build on and so on, so it’s there. But the threat we have is saltwater killing all fresh vegetation, green vegetation that ducks like to feed on in those marshes that can stay away from actually being on the coast. But we’re losing that every season.
Ramsey Russell: Beyond duck, it’s the fisheries, it’s everything.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: It’s everything. And so when I talk about conservation, yeah, I’m talking about conservation for ducks, I’m talking about conservation for fish, I’m talking about conservation for oysters and shrimpers, also talking about conservation is that these water towns, these coastal towns or having to move back or having to – like you’re also talking conserving people’s homes.
Ramsey Russell: It’s the greatest environmental tragedy, certainly in North America, not the world right now in my humble opinion. I just remember being a young college kid and everybody was talking about saved rain forest, no, save that Gulf coastal Delta, baby. I just got this feeling Jean Paul, we’re going to wake up and it’s going to be gone and only then are we going to realize what it did for continental waterfowl and for all the fisheries.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: And again, some of the projects I’m working on better shed light on that because people don’t understand that the Mississippi River being levied off from the north to the south is not just affecting the Mississippi Delta in Louisiana and all that coastal area, it will affect everything in this country. And as that land disappears, it’s going to be a slow creep because like you said, it’s not something you notice every day or every year this and that, I mean, we notice because we’re in tune to it, regular people will not notice this and one day it’s all going to be gone and you’re going to wonder how transportation costs went up so much because you can’t run ships through the river for certain reasons or because the delta is for certain reason. It’s the life blood of not just Louisiana because it does so much for habitat and for people and for workforce and so on. But also that river running straight up the gut and all the way up north, like that’s the life blood for a lot of middle of America, getting their goods and so on anyways. I mean, we could spend podcast and podcast talking about those efforts and what needs to happen. But whoever’s listening out there don’t get it wrong, it’s happening and it’s happening fast and people like us who spend a lot of time there see it and we’re just trying to say, hey, like we need more efforts, we need more money, we need more brains behind this problem so we can find a solution. If we can’t stop it, good Lord, let’s try to slow it, we need to do something.
What Does One Learn in Culinary School?
But kitchen, real kitchen work is by school of hard knocks.
Ramsey Russell: Circling back, what did you learn under Chef Folse. What did you learn in chef school?
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Man, I wanted a degree, you know what I mean? I wanted a college degree, I don’t mean this in –
Ramsey Russell: I mean, what do you learn at chef school, I have no idea.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: What do you learn? Well, some people learn how to cut vegetables, some people learn how to run a business, here’s the thing about any chef school, you can have the best instructors in the world, you can be the most precise on your knife cuts, you can learn how to make all the mother sauces, put out 200 years ago, none of that matters, when you don’t walk into a real kitchen and you can work and you can show up on time, you can do the work, you can have the focus to be in tune to it every day because look, that is not an easy job, commercial kitchen work like traditional kitchen work, that’s hard on anybody and everybody that walks into that thing. And so, you got to have it here in your heart. That culinary school, it will teach you all the basics, it will teach you the foundation sauces, it’ll teach you this and it’ll teach you how to look at your cash cows and you’re good selling food and you’re not so well selling food on food reports and itemized sales, you’ll learn all that. But kitchen, real kitchen work is by school of hard knocks. I mean, it’s getting burned, it’s getting in the weeds, it’s not performing at a high level and thinking about it that night and how you’re going to do it. I mean, it’s the closest you can come to a team sport as without playing a team sport because all of you all work, I mean, you go in to a day in the kitchen, ready for war, like, mentally you’re prepared, you got your prep list, you know what you need to knock out before family meal, then you got to make family meal, then you got like 45 minutes in between family meal and start a service to knock out all those other little teeny, just cross the T and dot the I’s if you will on your prep list. I mean, that’s the type of attitude you got to come at it with is – and then the guy next to you or the girl next to you or the person running the line like that’s the quarterback and so on and so forth. It’s just you’re all integrated in that kitchen, you’re all working together as a team to execute that one plate or that dinner service and that’s something that cannot be taught in culinary school. As great as they are and as great as John Folse is and all of them are that’s necessary. But you can’t replicate what happens in between that time when you walk in and clock in and dinner service.
Collecting Experiences and Flavors
Yeah, everything I eat, touch, smell, see when it evolves around food goes into this little memory bank in my head that is able to somehow been able to do this for a long time.
Ramsey Russell: From the outside looking in, I was almost fishing for an answer like, as an outsider looking in culinary arts, it’s kind of like art school and everybody wants to be an artist but ain’t everybody Picasso. And I mean, so speaking of that, like the flavors and the techniques, I mean, you grew up as a little boy and then behind the Boudin curtain, the south of Louisiana in the kitchen with your folks, did it enhance or did it build on that?
Jean Paul Bourgeois: I’m naturally curious, I was naturally curious as a kid. And so yeah, like what I grew up eating every day was what I knew. But as the emergence of the food network came on and you started seeing like Mario Batali, he’s shunned in for good reasons, he shunned in the business. But he had some good Italian cooking shows back in the day that I was like, oh, you can make fresh pasta, it’s not all hard, you don’t just all get it from a box from the grocery store. And then one of the first Christmas presents that I asked for pre-teen was a pasta maker, which I still have, which I still make pasta on to this day, that pasta you saw on my Instagram account maybe a month ago, that was the pasta maker I got, when I was a teenager. And I was making fresh pasta before I ever went to culinary school and so it was the curiosity around flavors. I remember when I was 8 years old, my parents they redid the kitchen, they got this nice new Viking range and they had the spice cabinet like all perfectly like located to where you can just grab it and season and so on. And I was 8 years old and they were outside somewhere and I was standing on a little stool and I turned the fire on and I would take the spices out of the spice cabinet and just pour them on the open flame and watch how they reacted to an open flame and some would spark some would smolder on the burner, some would catch on fire and make clouds of smoke and just like those little things, I was interested to see the interaction of fire with that stuff and smell it and hear it how the crackle of dried rosemary hitting a hot burner is like is a crackle, right? So in those little moments, it’s being curious. Culinary school, it will expose you to different cuisines from all around the world, maybe that’s the way you build that curiosity in people to expand their flavors, their seasonings, their techniques, all around the world, we cook chicken, all of us like, there’s some sort of culture, everybody cook a chicken and a lot of us cook it in the same way. We fry it, we put it in some sort of sauce or gravy and cook it, there is not a country in the world that doesn’t do both of those things, but they’re using different ingredients to make it. The same technique, Koreans fried chicken, some say even better than southerners, but they’re using different ingredients to do it and doing it a little bit different technique, I don’t know. And so once you start understanding that as a young cook, you’re like, oh man, there’s a whole big world out there. Think about this Ramsey, I tell this the other day like, spices, this is why I love spiceology, the company that carries my spices, shameless plug there is because they actually have really extraordinarily good spices and for better, for worse, whatever you agree, like the truth is in American history, we used to trade people for spices, that’s the type of emphasis that we put on spices. And now when you go to the grocery store, there’s a whole aisle full of bland, flavorless old dry spices and I tell people all the time like, dude, just buy some spices that you’ve never tried before and taste them like with your finger and if they taste smoky or sweet or spicy or bitter or sour and just let that guide your creativity and curiosity like okay, well, something tastes smoky, maybe that’s good on chicken, on the grill, I don’t know or something tastes sour, maybe I can make a pickle with that. And spices are really like a gateway for me and that goes like, when I’m traveling to Turkey, Vietnam, Morocco, I’m going to the spice markets.
Ramsey Russell: I was going to ask you about travel. I’ve seen you travel all over the world and that’s kind of your focal point. What do you collect? Experiences, flavors, flavor profiles.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Yeah, everything I eat, touch, smell, see when it evolves around food goes into this little memory bank in my head that is able to somehow been able to do this for a long time. Like I don’t write a lot of stuff down, when it comes to food, I don’t write a lot of even recipes down because I always evolve my recipes every time I cook. So, I can write you a recipe but the way I’m going to make it the next time is going to be a little different. And that’s because I’m just always curious about, well, what if I did this? What if I added that? What if I took away this? What if I change the time and temperature in this? And that’s one way I just continue to -people go, can I get the recipe, please? Well, I wish I had one for you, it’s not quite that easy.
Ramsey Russell: Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer Ronnie Van Zant never wrote the lyrics. He said, if it was a song worth singing, it was worth remembering.
Sensory Flavors and the Art of Understanding Food
We all taste salt, sour, bitter, sweet and umami, earthy or mushrooms. But really what’s interesting is when you start touching on textures.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: And in those spice markets, I’m able to collect from all those senses things. And obviously the most impactful is eating is the process of – I mean, when it’s on that plate – I mean, let’s just talk about that eating side of it. Like there’s a lot of times I’m in these different countries and I’m sitting at a plastic table with a plastic stool, crowd with a bunch of people, I don’t know their language, but I’m getting a bowl of soup and so I can’t talk to any of them about it. I may know that it’s like a chicken broth or chicken soup, but everything else in there is foreign to me and I can’t ask you about it, so I have to depend on. All right, the flavor, the smell, how it lingers in your mouth, the different textures that are in there or are there chewy textures or their crispy textures, what’s the spice element at? Is it resonating in the front of my nose and the tip of my tongue or is it down in the back of my throat and like in my ears? I look at all those things. Like we all taste salt, sour, bitter, sweet and umami, which is like earthy or mushrooms. But really what’s interesting is when you start touching on textures, when you start touching on heat, those other sensory flavors that I like to call them and that’s how our commune, that’s how I communicate with the food that’s in front of me is just really trying to understand it through that lens first, how it is in that bowl because a lot of times I can’t just ask people about it, and that goes, I mean that really honestly – like I’m a big fan of doughnuts and all these little small towns I go to, I always stop at a doughnut shop and I’m always like, my pursuit in a doughnut shop is like the perfect apple fritter and that’s what I’m looking for. Like I’ll get there at 6 AM, if I go at 9, they say no, we sold out apple fritters, I was like, I’ll show up at 6 AM for apple fritter because like, I feel like I’ve come close to the ideal perfect apple fritter. I mean, I’m still waiting to find it. And so like, it’s that curiosity, man. It’s like, I make time out of my day every day to be curious about food, it doesn’t always mean necessarily like eating it or going to a doughnut shop, but reading about it, hearing other people talk about it that are experts in the field because they have different life experiences, they have different perspectives that built their palate. Mine come from a lot of travel and experience and so on. Of course, they would be similar, but hearing somebody from South Korea cook Italian food and what their process is pretty interesting for somebody like me.
Duck Camp Dinners
Duck Camp Dinners was my baby and I’ve created it to memorialize this place and this group of friends that I cherished.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about Duck Camp Dinners because it connects your love of duck hunting and your love of cooking in a really nice way.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Duck Camp Dinners was my baby and I’ve created it to memorialize this place and this group of friends that I cherished. And we just got finished talking about conservation, when Ida came, we thought that camp was gone. There was no way when Ida came, that we were like, the camp is still there or if the camp is still there, it’s somewhere out in the marsh on a levee on dry ground now, we’re not going to be able to move it. And for that reason, I wanted to memorialize this place because I knew any hurricane season that could be wiped out.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you think it’s going to be just one show or one season just to memorialize that place at that time?
Jean Paul Bourgeois: At first, I was going to put my phone on a tripod and point it at me while I cooked and make cooking videos at the camp, that was my first. I was like, man, I’m here every weekend, I might as well create some duck camp cooking videos. And as the idea continued to percolate, I was like, well, we do more than cook some pretty good hunting here, all these guys are funny as hell and there’s a authenticity that’s lacking in today’s media surrounding Louisiana culture and I took all those kind of levels and I said, well, maybe there’s a bigger story to tell here. And that’s when I started kind of engaging videographers, photography, production on like, what would that look like cost wise, what would that look like production wise to create 6 episodes that were 8 minutes long and that was the goal. We wanted to go out there for five days and film it all start to finish, we didn’t script anything, we didn’t put episodic breakdowns in it, we didn’t know what the episodes would be. We don’t know what the episodes were for season two because the way we build it is just this ongoing process of having these people in this life cycle, I called it the life cycle of the duck camp through the food we eat and people we share it with that was like my elevator pitch, the life cycle of the duck camp through the food we eat and the people we share it with and that involved going to the grocery store to do whatever. So my goal is to just show that process and in that process, we created this show and I remember when the editors got it, they’re like, dude, we got way too much good content to keep it to 6 to 8 minutes, like maybe we should look at 12 to 15 and then it turned out to be a couple 25 minute episodes, couple 18 minute episodes and so on. But really it was to memorialize that place, so I always had it no matter if it was there or not, I wanted that selfishly for myself and it turned out that because we did it in a way that resonated with people, not just in Louisiana, but far outside of Louisiana, not just in America, but in other countries, people saw themselves in it, saw their own duck camp or fishing camp or elk camp in it. And that’s where we’re like, oh, we might have struck a chord here in a good way, what other stories are there to tell? What other camps and people and food is there able to cook that I don’t know about yet. Is it in the Chesapeake Bay? Is it in the Pacific Northwest? Is it all in Texas? Think about Texas waterfowl scene, that would be a great duck camp dinner between the eastern timber, the coastal, the western prairies and Milo and shooting lessers and sandhills and all the species in between that, plus, the hog problem that Texas has, the exotic. So if you talk about just the waterfowl and there’s just camps, there’s people that were like, yeah, man, we got the same thing in so in Matagorda or somewhere in East Texas by Beaumont and you start thinking to yourself, shoot man, there’s a lot of people that see themselves in this and they have their own stories to tell, they have their own food they cook, they have their own friends that cut up, they have their own ducks they shoot. And if ours, is that interesting, maybe theirs is and I think it is. I think there’s thousands of people like us that don’t even know, they have a great story to tell and it just takes maybe somebody like me or somebody else to tap in and be like, that’s pretty cool, can we share that? Can we expand on that? Can we talk about that? Can we film that? I think, you do a great job with this podcast, like breaking into those nooks and crannies as the industry and talking with people that are from all walks of life, from all over the world about ducks, about waterfowl and how they interacted with that, how they engage with that.
Ramsey Russell: Something about the duck hunting culture just lends itself to that. Like we started off saying earlier beyond which is, it’s only dead ducks. But what you’re talking about and what I see in Duck Camp Dinners down in Louisiana is people and food and culture and good times. The kind of good times that the giants you hunted with, laughing in a place they just can’t have that kind of fun in the real world, so to speak. And duck hunting is a composite of all that and food hold it together because we’re all shoulder to shoulder eat dinner or we’re all in the kitchen contributing to the gumbo pot.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Let me tell you, you said something that strikes something and you said the Real World and that idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time. My belief is that the Real World is out there, that’s the Real World. It’s this world that we’re in right now that we’re sitting at this table, that’s all the fake stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that’s where we have to be.
Jean Paul Bourgeois: That’s where we create all our problems. We create all our stresses, all our life decisions that all happens where we’re at now. The Real World doesn’t care about any of that. And the real world is in those duck blinds, is in those deer stands, is in those fishing boats, it’s in that natural world. We just got it flipped for so long that we believe that going out there is an escape from the real world, no, we escape the real world when we’re here. When I’m stressing about if we’re going to get all the episodes done in time, that’s the fake. And the real is, where we want to spend all those times with giants.
Ramsey Russell: How can everybody connect with you? And where can we watch Duck Camp Dinners? And how can we connect with you on Instagram because folks, you want to watch this guy?
Jean Paul Bourgeois: Yeah. So on my Instagram is chefJean_Paul. You can find me there every day of the week. I just announced that duck camp dinner season two is going to be aired on Meat Eaters, YouTube channel on August 12th, that’s 2 weeks from today on August 12th. You can watch season one currently right now, it’s on the Meat Eaters YouTube channel currently. And so if you want to see what we were up to in season one, it give you a little taste of what we’re going to be doing in season 2 and we really get into it for season 2, I’m going to leave it at that. August 12th you’re going to just have to wait for it on the Meat Eaters YouTube channel. I think it’s going to be – the episodes look great, I’m really pumped about it, but I’m really excited to see how many more people can really see themselves in that show because I think we’re just tapping into the story.
Ramsey Russell: Chef Jean Paul, you are just getting started, I promise you are just getting started. Folks, thank you all for listening episode of Duck Season Somewhere Chef Jean Paul from behind the Boudin curtain to Duck Camp Dinners, thank you all for listening, I’ll see you next time.