"Whatever you thought you might be seeing, is going to be completely washed away the moment we bleed that hog out."
Toby Rodriguez, a chef/butcher from Grand Coteau, Louisiana, doesn't mince words when it comes to what happens at the Lache Pas Boucherie. On Sunday, Houston's Black Hill Ranch will be the second stop on a 20-city tour that showcases the traditional Cajun gathering where a pig is slaughtered and processed.
"Before there was refrigeration, before there was electricity, a single family didn’t just go pick up meat from the grocery store, they were killing their own animals. That’s strenuous labor that needs assistance. They would call outside neighbors or family and friends to assist in slaughtering, butchering, and processing that animal," Rodriguez explains. "Today, it’s done to preserve culture . . . we don’t have to rely on the boucherie, which is kind of unfortunate. It’s a very important part of our culture, and we don’t want to see it die."
Top Houston chefs like Danny Trace (Brennan's of Houston), Graham Laborde (Bernadine's), Jordan Asher (Ritual), and Greg Lowry (formerly of Pour Society) will all be on hand to help process the pig and prepare dishes with the fresh meat. Rodriguez worked with Cajun food expert Jim Gossen and Black Hill Ranch owner Felix Florez to identify Houston chefs with an expertise in this type of cooking. He explains that when he first started inviting chefs to participate in the boucherie many had only seen meat in its packaged form but the experience can be transformative.
"(They) had never felt meat at body temperature. When they get it, it’s already cold. To see a live animal die in front of them and that animal pretty quickly go from being livestock to meat and protein right before their eyes was pretty impactful. It sends them back to their kitchen pretty motivated, with their eyes opened," Rodriguez says.
Those with an interest in the farm-to-table movement or just knowing where their meat comes from are invited to attend Sunday's event. The all-day affair begins promptly at 8 am when Rodriguez slaughters the pig and lasts until about 4 pm. In between, the chefs break down the animal at eight different stations and turn in into a series of dishes that the crowd gets to sample. Tickets are $100.
"Things do not come out all at once. The dishes are done when they’re done," Rodriguez says. "There’s going to be a lot of anticipation when people are waiting for something to be done, then all of a sudden boudain’s done and everyone rushes over to gorge on boudain."
At a traditional boucherie, participants would leave with some meat as a reward for helping process the animal. With between 100 and 200 people expected to attend Sunday, that's not going to be possible. Still, Rodriguez does promise one thing.
"They’re going to leave with is a full belly and a smile."