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Thursday, January 19, 2017

El Cabo Verde: A Passion Project

by Blair Loup

The first time I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Gabriel Balderas, local food legend Chris Jay was taking us on a culinary dream tour around the Shreveport-Bossier area.

People always laugh when I tell them how much I love Shreveport, but it’s no joke. We found Chef Gabriel cooking some of the most amazing tamales I’ve ever had at Flying Heart brewery in Bossier City.

Instead of cooking them in corn husks, Chef Gabriel cased his tamles in banana leaves... and my life changed. Everything I didn’t really like about tamales before (dry & crumbly masa) seemed to be remedied by the moisture from the banana leaf. That’s the moment I knew Gabriel was onto some next level stuff.

We’ve kept in touch with Gabriel and watched the success of the El Cabo Verde name. Sure enough, Chef Gabriel was named one of 2016’s Chefs to Watch by Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine.

Reserved, but passionate, I could listen to him talk about food and ingredients all day. His dedication to the craft is serious and it shows on every plate he puts in front of you.

Fresh corn tortillas, chips, queso, salsa and salsa verde
Fresh corn tortillas, chips, queso, salsa and salsa verde


Here’s a look at some of the dishes we had the chance to taste at his brand new brick and mortar:


Guacamole

Guacamole with fried plantains and radish
Guacamole with fried plantains and radish


I find there’s always a fine line that separates good guac from bad guac. Too much of this or too little of that could make or break a guacamole’s reputation, and this one is made of the right stuff.


Quesadillas

Pork quesadillas
Pork quesadillas 


A traditional quesadilla is the stuff dreams are made of. Creamy, melted queso enveloped around tenderly braised meat between a homemade corn tortilla is hard to beat. This is the snack of champions.


Chicken Tamales

Banana leaf tamales with chile de arbor salsa
Banana leaf tamales with chile de arbor salsa


These are as legendary as I remember them. Covered in a tangy salsa verde, these flavorful pockets of masa combined with a side of spicy chile de arbol salsa are a must-try.


Cricket Tacos 

Crunchy cricket tacos with guacamole on a fresh corn tortilla
Crunchy cricket tacos with guacamole on a fresh corn tortilla

As a very special treat, Chef Gabriel prepared a special off-menu item for our team. I’m probably the most adventurous eater out of the group, so I was super stoked when he put this cricket taco in front of me. The flavor is unique and flavorful with hints of lime. While this may not be something you can always find, I think it’s indicative of Chef Gabriel’s passion and culture. I know I enjoyed it and I can't wait to go back for more!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Jay D's Bites: Loaded Barbecue Cheese Fries

by Aimee Tortorich

We love these loaded cheese fries using our line of Jay D’s products. It’s the perfect snack to share with friends and with the Super Bowl coming up, this dish is a must-try We tossed the fries in Jay D’s rub to give a nice kick and added Louisiana barbecue ranch dressing to add a touch of sweetness and tang. While we used store bought fries to make this dish quick and easy, you could also make your own fries at home and use the same toppings.

Loaded Barbecue Cheese Fries




1 lb. frozen fries, cooked according to directions
1 Tbs Jay D’s Spicy and Sweet Rub
1 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced
1/4 cup Jay D’s Louisiana Barbecue Sauce
¼ cup ranch dressing
Green onions, for garnish

Preheat oven to desired temperature according to directions on back of fries package. Toss fries in a little olive oil and sprinkle with rub. While fries are baking, make the barbecue ranch sauce by combining Jay D’s Louisiana Barbecue Sauce and your ranch dressing of choice. 

 When fries are golden brown and delicious, put on a sheet pan and layer with cheese and jalapeño slices. Bake until cheese is melted and garnish with green onions. Lastly, finish with the barbecue ranch sauce and an extra drizzle of Jay D’s Louisiana Barbecue Sauce if you so choose. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Beers with Chuck: Grapefruit Sculpin from Ballast Point Brewing

by Chuck P



When I heard the news that Ballast Point Brewing Company, based in San Diego, California, was finally coming to Louisiana I was as giddy as kid on Christmas morning. Like many other beer geeks, the only way you could get any Ballast Point beers before this was by either taking a trip over to Pensacola, heading to Houston or trading beers online. Those days are over now as the the first round of Ballast Point brews are showing up on store shelves around Baton Rouge and surrounding areas.

I’ve had quite a few beers from Ballast Point but amazingly one of their most popular beers, the Grapefruit Sculpin, somehow flew past my radar. Obviously, this is something that needed to be rectified and I was quickly kicking myself for not trying this sooner.

The Sculpin IPA is a classic and one that Ballast Point is well known for, but over the years the grapefruit version seems to have surpassed it in popularity. The grapefruit notes shine through perfectly with just enough tart and bitterness to compliment the citrusy notes of the Sculpin IPA.

On the nose, as well as flavorwise, you get the grapefruit along with notes of lemon, mango and apricot. These scents come rushing to meet you in a nice balance. As crushable as this beer is, remember it’s coming in at 7% so just enjoy the ride as opposed to speeding through it.

Coming from someone who isn’t a big fan of fruit I can see myself drinking quite a few of these whether hanging with friends or perched up at the one of my favorite craft beer hangouts.

Hopefully the other variations of Sculpin like Pineapple and Habanero will make their way down to Louisiana soon but in the meantime make sure to grab a six pack (12 packs coming soon) or a pint and enjoy the deliciousness of Grapefruit Sculpin. 

When you do, raise a glass and give a big Louisiana welcome to Ballast Point Brewing Company!

To hear more about this beer, check out this podcast with Mockler's Craft Brands Manager Jacob Talley and James Brown of Ballast Point talk about the Grapefruit Sculpin phenomenon:


Monday, January 9, 2017

Jay D's Bites: Cruciferous Crunch Shrimp Salad

by Aimee Tortorich

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of seeing the same salad creations. I wanted to put a nice spin on a salad that was not only delicious, colorful and flavorful, but also super healthy (especially with all of those holiday parties we’ve been going to). For a nice crunch, we switched up your normal greens for a cruciferous blend that would add a great texture and hold up to the dressing. We added some roasted sweet potatoes, quinoa, and shrimp to create this winner. This salad has all the right flavor, tang, texture and heat to leave a lasting impression.

Cruciferous Crunch Shrimp Salad






10 oz. cruciferous vegetables mixture (shredded kale, brussels, cabbage, etc)
1 lb. uncooked deveined peeled large shrimp
2 Tbs of Jay D’s Spicy and Sweet Rub
2 Tbs of avocado oil
1 lb. peeled sweet potatoes, small diced
1 Tbs of olive oil
1 cup tri-colored quinoa

For dressing:
¼ cup Molasses Mustard
2 Tbs Jalapeño Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Preheat oven to 400º.

Toss sweet potatoes with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast until tender, about 30-45 minutes. Heat 2 cups of water in sauce pot to a boil, stir in quinoa, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn heat off and keep covered for 5 minutes. Season shrimp with avocado oil and Jay D’s Spicy and Sweet Rub. Heat a saute pan on medium heat with olive oil and add shrimp. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until shrimp is translucent. Add quinoa, sweet potatoes to the salad mix, drizzle with dressing, toss and serve topped with sautéed shrimp.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Best Times of 2016: Aimee Looks Back

by Aimee Tortorich

2017 is finally here which means that we can all kick 2016 to the curb. These past twelve months have shown us the good, bad and the ugly. There have been losses and sadness along with wins and celebrations, but you have to take the good with the bad for everything to balance out right?

Even though this past year had its share of setbacks, it was an epic year for me! From announcing the plans for our upcoming restaurant, Gov’t Taco, to cooking at the legendary James Beard House, I pretty much kicked 2016’s ass. Here’s a look at some of my favorite things I had the chance to do this year:


Gov't Taco





In early April, Jay Ducote officially announced the opening of his first food concept, Gov’t Taco. I humbly accepted the position as Executive Chef and have been working nonstop to build a menu that food enthusiasts will be excited to experience. 

I’ve gained a vast knowledge of food by traveling the world as a Navy photographer and am ready to throw Baton Rouge some bold flavors and curveballs in the form of tacos. Through our progressive vision and seasonal menu, we will continually strive to keep diners on their toes, so look out Baton Rouge! Your taco dreams will be coming true in 2017!


Volunteering for Operation BBQ Relief



As a Louisiana native, 2016 was especially difficult for me. We suffered many tragedies too close to home. One of the most humbling experiences I found myself fortunate to be a part of was volunteering to feed flood victims.

Jay put me in contact with Operation BBQ Relief, a Disaster Response Organization based out of Missouri, where they ultimately served 313,587 meals in South Louisiana over 13 days and with 540 volunteers. There is something to be said about the positive effects that come out of negative situations. The amount of support and help that I experienced during this tragedy was overwhelming and I am so proud to call Baton Rouge my home.


New York Culinary Dream Tour


There aren’t many times in people’s lives where the sun, moon and stars are aligned, but they most certainly were in July! Our New York culinary tour was what dreams are made of. The magnitude of awesomeness was off the charts and very difficult to put into words, but I will give it my best go!

Private Wine Tasting at Food & Wine Magazine





The day before our James Beard dinner, Katrina Rank (Napa Winemaker and now dear friend), invited the Bite and Booze team to a private tasting with Executive Wine Editor for Food & Wine Magazine, Ray Isle in their wine cellar. We did a blind tasting of eclectic wines from around the world. Ray guided us along with his impeccable wine knowledge and rated Jay D’s Blanc Du Bois as the best Blanc Du Bois he has tasted, ever!

Cooking at the James Beard House


Posing in the legendary James Beard kitchen (from left to right): Eusebio Gongora II, Blair Loup, Jay Ducote, Chuck P, Aimee Tortorich, Shelly Flash, Sarah Burkhaulter
Posing in the legendary James Beard kitchen (from left to right): Eusebio Gongora II, Blair Loup, Jay Ducote, Chuck P, Aimee Tortorich, Shelly Flash, Sarah Burkhaulter










As many of you may not know, the James Beard House is a sacred ground for aspiring chefs. It’s the ultimate measure of a chef’s talent besides gaining a Michelin star or Master Chef Certification, in my opinion. It’s what separates the good from the great in the culinary field and it’s been on my radar for a while, but I knew that years of hard work and persistence would be the only way I would even have a chance to cook there.

To my surprise, early last year I got an invite from Jay Ducote to help him execute his Tailgate on 12th menu! It was an unforgettable experience that the Bite and Booze team crushed!


Chefs & Champagne



Hanging out at Chefs & Champagne with John Besh and Chef Roxanne Spruance
Hanging out at Chefs & Champagne with John Besh and Chef Roxanne Spruance

Anything with the title “Chefs and Champagne” will naturually make my top moments of 2016. Fresh off of that James Beard dinner high, the Bite and Booze team headed down to the Hamptons to cook at the James Beard Foundation’s ‘Chefs and Champagne’ event at the Wölffer Estate Vineyard. 

It was no coincidence that Louisiana’s, John Besh, (and one of my culinary idols) would be this year’s honoree for all of the work he does throughout the Besh Foundation. Aside from humbly serving alongside some of the best chefs in the country, Bite and Booze was the only culinary team to represent Louisiana.


Pineywoods Supper Club


Blair, Jay and I cooking with fire at Mahaffey Farms
Blair, Jay and I cooking with fire at Mahaffey Farms

There is something special about cooking outdoors. The smell of fire and a drink in hand is probably my favorite setting for cooking. Our Pineywoods Supper Club dinner at Mahaffey Farms had to make the list. We executed the majority of our dishes entirely on wood fire and served some amazing dishes. From Jay Ducote’s Dutch oven biscuits to Nashville style hot chicken feet, all the guests were stoked and we had one hell of a time!

In conclusion, I say this to you 2016: I will not dwell upon you. I will happily thank you for all of your ups and downs, knowing that either way, you have been a year to remember! I will recall the disappointments, losses, and upsets but most importantly I will celebrate your blessings: the love, laughs, and memories that I have shared.

Cheers to what’s to come in 2017!

Take a look at what the rest of Team Bite & Booze had to say about 2016:

Best Bites of 2016: Blair's Picks
Best Bites of 2016: Jay's Picks
Chuck P's Best Bites of 2016 (Burger Edition)