DU Podcast Transcript: Ep. 16 – Celebrity Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois Joins the Show

New York City-based Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois joins the show and shares how he become passionate about DU

© Michael Furtman

Clay Baird: Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited Podcast, the only podcast about all things waterfowl. From hunting insights to science-based discussions about ducks, geese, and issues affecting waterfowl and the wetlands conservation in North America, we bring the resource to you. The DU Podcast, with your host Chris Jennings.

Chris Jennings: Today I've got a special guest, Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois. He is a renowned chef. He's actually a celebrity chef, an avid waterfowl hunter from Louisiana. He's passing through Memphis. He decided to sit down and talk with us. Jean-Paul, welcome to the show.

Chef Jean-Paul: Man, Chris. Thanks for having me, man. This is amazing. It's an honor to be within these walls of Ducks Unlimited, because from the time I was a little boy to today, I've been following along. And so, just great to be able to sit down, talk some waterfowl recipes and cooking, and just have a little chat.

Chris Jennings: Awesome. Excited that you're happy to be here. First off, I just want you to provide a little bit of background for the audience, you know, kind of let them know where you're from, your familiarity with Ducks Unlimited, and how you went from Louisiana to New York City.

Chef Jean-Paul: Well, yeah. I'm from Thibodaux, Louisiana, which is a little, small town, a little bayou community, about 15,000 people, in South Louisiana. And my dad was big ... as a sponsor and different levels, in Ducks Unlimited as I was growing up. My earliest recollection of duck hunting and waterfowl, has been revolved around Ducks Unlimited.

Chef Jean-Paul: At Nicholls State University, in their ballroom ... I think they may still have their fund-raising banquet there, but that's where I remember being eight, nine years old, and going to the supper, and the raffle, and the auction that happened. You know, I was hooked. Everything from the auctioneer, "Can I get a ten? You got a ten? I got a ten. Yeah, I got a ten. Can I get a 20? Can I get a 20? Yeah, 25. I got 25 back there. Got a 25. Can I get a 30? 30, 30, 30," and so, like, I got hooked on it.

Chef Jean-Paul: And then there was always great food, and then there were always these beautiful paintings, these shotguns, duck calls, duck call contests, and I was just hooked. I looked forward to it every October. I remember even the month, every October, to go to the DU banquet and dinner with my dad. I got my first shotgun, was a 20-gauge, youth-model pump with Ducks Unlimited engraving on it. I was too young to even use the gun. It was too heavy for me. And I was out hunting ... I say, hunting ... with my dad in the duck blind at eight or nine years old. It was a little too big, and I had to switch to my grandpa's single-barrel, crack-barrel, 20-gauge, three-inch shell, until I got to probably 11 and 12 years old, where I was able to handle that pump a little more.

Chef Jean-Paul: Back in that time of South Louisiana, my dad and his friends, they were shooting the hell out of some ducks, and everything from that DU banquet, to that first gun, to being in that cold duck blind with my old man, you know, that really set the tone for the rest of my life, as I'm 35 years old and love duck hunting even more ... just as much as I did as a nine, ten, eleven year old boy.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. And that's cool. You know, it's so funny how many people, even throughout this building, you know, people who work at national headquarters, people who work out in the regional offices, how they stumbled into the passion of Ducks Unlimited in the same way. Listening to that auctioneer, you know, getting your first gun, and then also spending time in the duck blind with friends and family. It's a very common story, and it's a proud one for our organization for sure.

Chef Jean-Paul: Well, let me tell you this. Ducks Unlimited even sponsored my Little League baseball team for four years. Our team was DU. We had DU jerseys. My dad went all out, and he even took out his own money to get us fresh helmets with the DU logo on it. I bet you I got old film of those times. We won the championship twice, as Ducks Unlimited. We were the most sought-after team in Little League to beat, and look, I'm telling you. It's been a part of my life for a long time, and not just hunting, and as you can see, even sporting and community.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. And that passion, and obviously just from talking to you, and sitting down with you today, I can tell that passion, not only as a waterfowl hunter, as a conservationist, but also your food. You know, you're passionate about food. How does that transition? You know, you're talking about duck hunting here, and this is a conversation that we talk about every day, but you're in New York City. You know, you're cooking in restaurants in New York City. You're presenting different food, and talking ... You're probably friends with chefs throughout the city. How are you presenting that, "Hey, man. Let's go duck hunting and cook some ducks?" Like, do you do that with these guys?

Chef Jean-Paul: Well, what I have been good at over the last five years is going home, going to different areas around the country, whether it's Texas, or the Midwest plains, or South Louisiana marshes, shooting ducks or shooting deer, shooting sand hill cranes or Canada geese, and dressing them, packing them, freezing them, and getting them in my cooler so I can bring them back to New York.

Chef Jean-Paul: I have a deep freezer just for wild game in New York. Now, I've been blessed over the last eight months. We just moved into a new place in New York, but it has a backyard, it has a driveway, I have a garage, I can put all my gear in there.

Chef Jean-Paul: So, one of the greatest things I've been able to do is, take out some of that game, and have chefs from around the city come in, have people from our community group, have different folks from different circles in New York, and I'm talking about people that span from being from Singapore to the West Coast in California, and everywhere in between. It's such a worldly city, right?

Chef Jean-Paul: And so, I think that that's one of my greatest pleasures there, to bring them into my house, and cook for them, and take it out of that freezer, and say, "This is what I hunted in January. This is what I hunted in November." And tell them the story about that, and get them eating wild game through my backyard, right. And they've never had that opportunity to do that.

Chef Jean-Paul: I love just like, seeing their faces, like, "Wait. You killed this?" "Wait. You shot this?" "Where'd you go for that?" I wear a gold Wood Duck around my neck right here, and they're all, "So, what is that?" "It's a Wood Duck." "Well, what's a Wood Duck?" "Well, let me tell you about a Wood Duck."

Chef Jean-Paul: So it's just these little opportunities to just talk to people about game hunting and wild game eating, and I think New York's such a great place to do that, because not a lot of people know about it, and you can really see the excitement and wonder on people's faces as you talk to them about it.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. No. We've kind of talked off-air briefly, you know, that organic, from-field-to-table, approach that some people don't really even realize that you know, that process of getting the fresh ducks, or geese, or deer ... The food is what makes the connection, and if you can connect the people to the food, and they can connect it to the habitat, as well, and that's kind of how Ducks Unlimited approaches this, is as kind of a 50,000-foot level. And I appreciate that you're out there, you know, really introducing people to ducks. I mean, that's awesome. That's great for us. That's great for conservation.

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Chris Jennings: Quick question about, you know, all of your different influences that you've had, traveled the world, New York City, the worldly city, South Louisiana, which I would say is probably the best place for food, in my opinion. I eat my way across Louisiana every time I go. What chef or other like, kind of personal, home-grown influences have you had that you can take to wild game? Like, you saw something that another chef has done, and you're like, "Man, I'm doing that with a mallard. There's no doubt in my mind."

Chef Jean-Paul: Yeah. Yeah. Well, this has a lot of different levels for me. Growing up, there was a guy by the name of Frank Davis, who was a TV chef for a local news radio in New Orleans, at Baton Rouge, and he would do a lot of fishing. They'd go out on the boat and they'd show him catching redfish and speckled trout, but he also did ... Not as much game as fishing, but he did do duck, venison, sometimes small game, like rabbit and squirrel, and he'd go out and make those recipes.

Chef Jean-Paul: And I think as a little boy, I immediately saw that, yes, getting to shoot a pinto, or mallard, or wood duck, you know, some of these beautiful mounts, you know, ducks that are great for mounting, and so on, that's amazing. But there's also this connection with food and sustaining a way of life through the food and the things that you hunt.

Chef Jean-Paul: And yes, Frank Davis was a TV personality, but he knew how to connect the two worlds pretty seamlessly. I think he just passed a few years ago of a rare disease, and I was really sad to see that go, because I have all his cookbooks. Back in the day he had all these kind of great Cajun and Creole books

Chef Jean-Paul: Through the years, I think just being able to travel the world, as I have over the last probably 10 years ... I've gotten to do a good bit of international travel, and there's cultures all around this world that eat wild duck and wild game, and their own wild species of whatever they hunt, right? What you start to realize is that, man, we may live miles and miles apart, but we're really not that different, especially when it comes to how we sustain our culture of knowing what you're eating, knowing where your food's from. I mean, know where your food's from, right?

Chef Jean-Paul: How else are you going to know where your food's from? What better way to know where your food's from is when you go and harvest it yourself? There's people like Hank Shaw, right now, who I think is doing a wonderful thing through social media and his own website, about telling his story of food through wild game. People like Jeremiah Doughty and all those people that are really committed to that from-field-to-plate, or you know, from-sky-to-plate kind of eating.

Chef Jean-Paul: I think as long as I'm cooking and loving food as much as I do, and just studying it, like really studying how things are prepared, why they're prepared, international cuisines, what's their influences? I'm going to always learn from both my peers, the people before me and the people after me.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. That's awesome. So you're saying everyone in the world puts Italian dressing on their mallards, right? I'm just kidding.

Chef Jean-Paul: I'm telling you this. If it ain't Italian dressing, it's garlic, chilis, vinegars, and oil-based marinades, you know, and when you distill it all down ... I mean, when I was in Argentina, the guy, he had his duck recipe published in a hunting magazine. It's called Aldo's Duck, right? It's marinated in white vinegar, shallots, parsley, tons of garlic, and olive oil. I mean, that sounds pretty close to Italian dressing to me.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. It's pretty close. I'm down for it. Chef Jean-Paul, thanks again, man. I really appreciate it. Hey, if people want to find you, where can they look you up?

Chef Jean-Paul: Well, you can definitely hit me on Instagram at ChefJean_Paul, so hit me up there.

Chris Jennings: Cool, man. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Chef Jean-Paul: Thank you.

Chris Jennings: Hope you all enjoyed the show today. Thanks to our guest, Jean-Paul Bourgeois, for joining us in studio, and thanks to Clay Baird for producing the DU Podcast. He does a great job with it.

Chris Jennings: I'm Chris Jennings. Thanks to all of you for supporting wetlands conservation.

Clay Baird: Thank you for listening to this episode of the DU Podcast. Be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to the show, and visit www.ducks.org/dupodcast for resources based on today's topics, as well as access to more episodes. Opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect those of Ducks Unlimited. Until next time, stay tuned to the ducks.