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Ruston's very own 'Chef to watch'

Cathi Cox-Boniol
Sunday, September 17, 2023
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Desi Bourgeois of Heard Freighthouse Food Park holds the Sept/Oct 2023 issue of Louisiana Cooking magazine

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The Louisiana Cooking feature on Desi Bourgeois includes a picture of the dish he will make during the six-course meal in Covington – chicken con fit (center, right).

You’ll have to forgive Desi Bourgeois if he’s feeling like a bit of an imposter. The driving force behind Ruston’s Heard Freighthouse Food Park currently finds himself in an unexpected situation after being named one of six “Chefs to Watch” by Louisiana Cooking magazine.

“Look, Louisiana is a food place,” Bourgeois said. “So the imposter syndrome is real. Do we really belong here yet? There are really mixed feelings about this because I’m not doing what the others in this magazine are doing. But I know we’ve worked hard and tried harder than most. So maybe it’s warranted in how we’ve changed the way people look at running out to lunch or just thinking about their food.”

It all started when Experience Ruston, the local Convention and Visitors Bureau, did a series of promotional articles focused on north Louisiana. As the initial shoot took place at Heard Freighthouse Food Park, the editor and Bourgeois engaged in a conversation about the “big picture” of what they were doing beyond the original three food trucks — Grown & Grazed, Staple Sandwich Co., and Bad Wolf BBQ. A relationship began, and the feature in the magazine followed. It’s something he sees as a stepping stone.

“We’re still really low-key,” Bourgeois continued. “Maybe it’s some of that imposter syndrome. But we know what we’re capable of doing. Most of our menus are catered events, but day-to-day, we just do what we do at the truck while utilizing local produce.

But we know where we’re headed, and this just gives us one more way to get the message out, tell people what’s to come and market Ruston as a destination food spot.”

Then there’s a destination related to the Louisiana Cooking feature. As a Chef to Watch, Bourgeois will work together with the other five chefs and create a six-course meal to be served at the Southern Hotel in Covington. There, on Oct. 12 and just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, Bourgeois will be recognized for his talent and innovation while serving up a dish reflective of both his south and north Louisiana influences.

“We’re making a chicken con fit,” he explained. “It’s related to the traditional ‘Sunday roast chicken’ dish people are familiar with in the north while utilizing south Louisiana staples like dirty rice. It’s a simple dish, but we believe sometimes simple is all you need.”

While simple, the dish will certainly follow Bourgeois’ commitment to using local ingredients. It features Baker Farms Popcorn Rice out of Gueydan in southwest Louisiana Cajun country, chicken from Mahaffey Farms in Haughton, and finally, he will pull a lot from the Ruston Farmers Market.

Following a classic cooking technique used for duck, chicken quarters will be salted and brined days ahead of being cooked in a combination of their fat and olive oil with whole heads of garlic and onion added.

After braising and poaching the chicken until it falls off the bone, in order to have a 100% utilization of the meat, the skin will be removed and flash fried to make a form of cracklin to sprinkle on top. The delectable dish is certain to grab attention.

“Hey, it’s amazing exposure,” Bourgeois said. “It puts us on the map, says people are watching us. People that follow the magazine and related social media tend to be food people who are like ‘oh, next time we’re going that way we’re going to stop there.’

We will likely get a little bump. We know they will come yet they won’t get what they see in the magazine.

But what they will get is elevated-level food every time.”

Amanda Carrier, President and CEO of Experience Ruston, notes that while Ruston and Lincoln Parish is a small destination, the area is setting a standard for quality and experience within its culinary scene. In her opinion, Bourgeois is really leading the way with his initiatives at Heard Freighthouse Food Park.

“The focus on quality of food, utilizing ingredients grown or produced right here, emphasis on sustainability, and creating a better way to connect the community through food is getting some well-deserved attention,” Carrier added. “Food brings people together — that goes for locals and the

and Desi has brilliantly transformed a historical landmark into a vibrant hub for communal gatherings and culinary delight.”

At the end of the day, magazine articles and imposter syndrome aside, Bourgeois knows who he is and where he’s going. Whether making scratch-made biscuits with real buttermilk

or sweet potato hash that is outsidethe- box different from

anything else, his commitment remains with real ingredients, exceptional food and an unwavering sense of community.

“I’m not doing what the others in this magazine are doing,” Bourgeois said. “They are going over the top, above and beyond in doing cutting-edge things. Or they are taking classics and putting a real twist on them. We’re doing the same thing but are doing it a level or two down from that upper scale dining experience. We’re doing it in a food truck. And that’s a little bit different. But it’s all good.

We know where we’re headed, and that’s what we’re focused on.”