OK, let’s get this out of the way. What is that word? If you’re going to make it through this story, you’ll need to know. Char-cu-te-rie—noun—a shop where cooked pork products are sold. See, that wasn’t so bad. And now you can impress your opponent while playing Words with Friends. Wait, does anyone play that anymore? Oh, never mind, on with the story …
Chase Lyons’ love affair with food goes back generations. His curiosity in the old-fashioned way of meat preservation was always there, but became intense immediately following his college days.
Visiting places like Cochon Butcher, a popular charcuterie in the Big Easy, gave a physical form to his interests, as well as many ideas about his future in a rare avenue of food.
“I was fascinated by the food in New Orleans,” Chase says. “They had all types of butcher shops and charcuteries, and all types of meat flavor combinations—things like pickled watermelon. I was fascinated by the techniques they used and the items they used.”
PSYCHED UP FOR FOOD
The 27-year-old Houma native graduated in 2004 from Vandebilt Catholic High School, then moved to Baton Rouge, where he attended Louisiana State University. Chase earned his degree in psychology—something he hasn’t used since. His interest in food brought him back home, where he learned to perfect a generations-old family recipe: Cajun-smoked andouille.
“I wanted to research a little more about [charcuterie] and learn the recipe my great-grandfather had making Cajun-smoked andouille, which had been passed down to me,” Chase says. “The learning process after college made me decide I wanted to get into this business.”
When the aspiring chef made a decision to turn his interests into profit, he knew he needed to learn how to prepare the meats and run a successful business. Chase started simple—he went to Google and searched “best sandwich shops in America.” A particular shop, Noble Pig Sandwiches, based in Austin, Texas, received rave reviews that caught his eye. He took a chance and sent them an email, asking if the two recognized chefs, Brandon Martinez and John Bates, had any available positions in which he could learn more about the business. The email turned into an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the sandwich shop industry.
“I knew if I opened a charcuterie, I would have to do sandwiches and soups and other things, too,” Chase says. “[Brandon and John] did not just do charcuterie, but other things; and I knew I could learn from them. They’d recently been on The Food Network and were voted Best Sandwich Southwest—I could tell they knew what they were doing.”
Chase received a response from the two chefs inviting him to come to Austin. But a job was not guaranteed.
“They told me to come spend a couple of days with them and bring what I could make, so I brought my andouille sausage,” Chase says. “I spent two days with them as a sort of trial, and then they hired me. It was the first kitchen I ever worked in. They worked with me and were patient with me. I couldn’t be more grateful to those guys. “
Chase looked into culinary school, but the price tag deterred him.
“Culinary school is very expensive,” he says. “After I finished at LSU, I thought about it; but I got the opportunity in Austin, so I took it and I feel like I got a better education there.”
The two chefs at Noble Pig were early in their own experiment with the sandwich shop, though hardly new to the cooking process and restaurant business. With families of their own, they wanted a job that would keep them close to home, so they opened Noble Pig, serving food for breakfast and lunch. It was there that Chase learned the most important aspects of charcuterie.
Chase spent six months in Austin, learning all he could about the place and the processes.
“I started doing everything they asked me to do, and eventually I moved up to be the prep guy,” he says. “I learned a lot, but I had my girlfriend and family at home, and I started getting homesick. I thought I’d learned enough to move back.”
CULINARY WORLDS COLLIDE
After his extended stay in Austin, Chase returned home, where he was put in touch with his business partner, Trey Williams. A commercial real estate man, Trey shared the same peculiar interests as Chase and had similar ideas about opening a charcuterie in Baton Rouge. While Chase was in Texas, Trey was living on a farm in Europe, learning how to prepare meats from scratch, being a butcher—one trade Chase was not as familiar with.
“[Trey] wanted to be immersed, so he spent time there,” Chase says. “Basically, they break down whole pigs and make sausage and pâtés, bacon—anything you can think of, you could do it there. He’d spent quite some time on the farm, so I don’t have the butchering skills that he does.”
The pair was perfect. And the two began paving their way to start their own business. They found a vacant salon on Hollydale Avenue, off of Perkins Road, and began the process to open up City Pork. The two are waiting on permits before all the action can really get under way. Current plans are to open in May.
No menu is written, but a website, www.cityporkdeli.com, has been launched. Chase envisions a deli case full of house-made bacon and sausages—and anything a charcuterie lover would want. Of course, he plans to sell his family’s own Cajun-smoked andouille.
“What we make will be 100 percent from scratch,” Chase says. “We’ll be making all of our mustard … if we can do [it] in house, we will. I want our deli counter to be filled with fresh sausages, pecan-smoked duck, maple-glazed holiday ham, house-made bacon, fresh sausage, boudin, andouille and pâtés.”
BREAKING DOWN CHARCUTERIE
What makes a charcuterie special is the way meat is prepared. Most of the action takes place in a controlled environment, out in the open, with salt serving as its preservative. The salt draws out the moisture and prevents any bacterial growth.
Each type of meat has its own method of preparation, and some meats take months to years before they are ready to serve. Offerings like salami, put in a sausage casing, can take one month before perfected, intensifying the flavor. In case you are wondering, pâtés are mixtures of spiced meats that are put into a mold and served chilled with crackers.
“People have their health concerns, and I want to be ahead of the curve,” Chase says. “We’ll be curing meat at very low temperature, so I’m meeting with the health inspector, and he’s going to work with us to develop a plan and process. Typically, you’re supposed to not have raw meat out at certain temperatures—but that is the whole point of salt.”
Along with making everything in house, Chase’s other priority is supporting local farmers and vendors.
“We’re going to be producing some real quality food,” Chase says. “I plan to be sourcing local, high-quality ingredients. I really want to stress our sourcing locally from farmers’ markets and other avenues, only using the freshest ingredients we can get. That’s the way food should be.”
RIGHT UNDER THE NOSE
Excited about what he has planned for City Pork, Chase hopes Baton Rouge is receptive to his ideas.
“New Orleans is already kind of tapped out in charcuterie,” Chase says. “No one is really doing it in Baton Rouge, and I think [the community will] be very receptive to what we want to do.”
For a young entrepreneur who started out in nursing school, Chase’s passion came to light in something that was right under his nose.
“I come from a ‘foodie’ family,” he says. “There were always pictures of pots and pans, and the Cajun culture is everywhere. I really wasn’t thinking about cooking or owning a restaurant in high school, but the older I got, the more I appreciated it. Originally, I thought I wanted to be a nurse—but clearly it wasn’t for me.”
With all plans in place and permits waiting, Chase is eager to open his restaurant that took so long to be realized. The purest of intentions, one can’t help but cheer him on to success in hopes that maybe an expansion to Houma may one day be in the future.