We reap what we sow and eat what we cook.
We sing, we dance... We laugh and cry.
We celebrate life and honor death,
We are both the funeral and the festival.
We stand on the shoulders of our past,
Walk with deliberate steps in this present,
Looking with hope towards our future.
We are the evolution of our forefather's efforts,
A provision of inspiration for our children's campaign.
We are Cajun and Creole,
Friends and Family
We are the Farmer and the Chef,
The Butcher and the Baker,
The Musician and the Artist,
We are Community
This is our crop
This is who we are.
We will not give up.
We will not let go.
-Lache Pas Boucherie et Cuisine
It is hard to put into words what exactly Lache Pas Boucherie is and what it means to Michael and I after having experienced it, but the words above from the Lache Pas founders capture it perfectly.
We were invited to participate in a weekend celebrating community. The power of taking part in slaughtering an animal, preparing every part of it, and serving it to your fellow community. Unless you are a hunter, have grown up on a farm, or worked on one, it is likely you have never experienced the taking of a life of something you are about to eat, or at least we hadn't. While it may seem barbaric and gruesome at first pass to the outside, it is actually quite sensitive and respectful to the sanctity of life.
The team behind Lache Pas Boucherie, led by Toby Rodriguez, hails from Lafayette (pronounced Le-fey-ette) Louisiana, the heart of Arcadiana and cajun-creole culture. Their ancestors have fed their communities through a traditional practice known as a boucherie, which literally translates to butchershop in french, but references the slaughter of a pig and its immediate butchery. Using almost every single part of the animal, the community would come together to prepare dishes such as head cheese, boudin, smoked ham, and fraisseurs, a rich stew made with the pigs organs.
This event was no different, except the community in this case was a cross-section of chefs from the St. Louis area. Lache Pas is traveling the country on a two year tour, bringing the boucherie experience to every city they can as a way to pass on this tradition to chefs and educate them on the value of using the whole animal. Their tour kicked off in Nashville a few weeks back, and we were lucky enough to be their second stop.
We all gathered at a private farm in Florissant, Missouri on Saturday to meet each other and share in a meal prepared by the Lache Pas crew. It was a beautiful evening watching the sunset over the bluffs, chowing down on rice, beans, and a spicy stew of local beef. Beers were shared, stories were told, and we all felt more connected and ready to share in the celebration to follow. Everyone setup camp across the property and in our own way, built our new community.
The Boucherie is really treated as a ceremonious occasion, along the lines of a funeral and celebration of life. The red wattle/berkshire cross pig that was the sacrifice for us all was supplied by the Backes family of Circle B Ranch. At 8 am, we all gathered in a shaded area, alongside fields of wheat and under crab apple trees, to witness the death of the pig. Toby spent over twenty minutes in the trailer with the pig calming him down. We all stood in complete silence. When the moment was right, Toby used a stunner to quickly and humanely kill him. And from that moment on, it was a fast flurry of activity, pulling him onto the funeral board and quickly draining and preserving its blood to be used for boudin noir.
The pallbearers raised the pig, and we all followed as they carried it to the slaughter field. The entire community took part in scalding and removing its hair. A long wooden table, covered with every tool imaginable, was at the ready for Toby, and right before our eyes, he masterfully went straight to work. With the pig sprawled out on the table, everything was so calm and fluid, it felt more like observing surgery from the gallery than any other butchering demo we've been apart of. The chefs were broken up into teams based on the dish they would prepare, so they were at the ready when their part was ready to head to the cooler, Toby yelling out "Boudin!" and passing the liver to Michael and the team.
The Boucherie is not about creative interpretation. While the community is a group of chefs who all have their ideas and options about the way to work with a pig, this was about tradition, so everything needed to be followed to the exact letter of Toby's recipes. And you know what, they all fell in line and were more than happy to take orders for a change.
Everything was prepared in an outdoor kitchen carefully laid out by the Lache Pas crew. Large caldrons sat atop gas stoves. A wooden smokehouse that starts as a flat box unfolded to become a full size chamber for cold smoking. And what many know as a caja china, is to them a cajun microwave, an iron box that you lay in large cuts of meat and seal with a box of coals on top. Seeing as how the crew is made up of carpenters, they naturally welded a grill on top of the cajun microwave to truly capture all the heat produced.
Over the course of the weekend things proceeded on "cajun time". A Boucherie is many things, but it is not fast. You don't rush a ham. And you most definitely don't rush a roux. We were all forced to slow things down, disconnect from our outside lives, and really just enjoy each others company. As special as it was to witness the butchery of the pig and take part in the preparation of the food, it really struck us that the most powerful part of the Boucherie was the connectivity you felt to your community. These experiences are few and far between in our daily lives. .
The culmination of the event was a feast, prepared by everyone, and served to a diverse audience of diners that purchased tickets to the Boucherie. These diners help support the efforts of the Lache Pas crew and make it possible for the chefs to participate at no cost. While not a true fundraiser, the people who attend these dinners really make it possible for this whole concept to exist.
We could list out all the courses and delicious morsels of pig that we served and feasted on, but that's not really the point. The point is that on Sunday a pig was alive, and by Monday evening, it was served in its entirety, ensuring nothing was wasted and complete and total respect was given to its time on earth and what it provided us.
It was an honor to join the Lache Pas community. We will always carry the philosophy and memory of what we experienced together. We walked away with a new set of friends, and a community to call our own.
To learn more about Lache Pas Boucherie and where they are headed next, visit their website http://www.lachepasboucherie.com