Eat to the Beat: Donald Link

New Orleans chef Donald Link discusses Cajun food, Britney Spears, and the art of seduction.

Donald Link is the award-winning chef and owner of Cochon and Herbsaint in New Orleans. Here he serves up his thoughts on snacks, grub, and rock & roll.

What do chefs and rock stars have in common?

I always joke that, with all the demos, plus food and wine festivals, it feels like I’m on tour. The lifestyles are similar: you can go get drunk after work and come in on two hours sleep, but if you can perform you’ll get paid. They should call it “partying like a chef” instead of “partying like a rock star.”

First times: what’s the first record you got into? First meal you cooked?

When I was in second grade I’d go through my dad’s records when he wasn’t home – which he hated – but the first one I really listened to was Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe. I was six or seven. The song “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” got me into it. As for food, during high school I worked at burger joints and fry cook jobs, and the guys working the line seemed pretty cool – respectable degenerates with tattoos.

Let’s talk starters: what’s your ultimate side one, track one, and what’s your ultimate appetizer?

Side one, track one is Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” off Badmotorfinger. I love that album. The appetizer would depend on my mood, who’s cooking, and where I am, so anything from a good bowl of gumbo to the tuna tartar at Gotham Bar and Grill in New York.

Let’s talk seduction: what’s your go-to soundtrack for getting it on, and what’s your go-to meal for getting a lady in the mood?

Billy Holliday’s a really great one to set the mood. For food, you have to find out what they want, but something clean like a well-seasoned piece of fish with some nice vegetable sides is always good.

On the road: what’s your ultimate road food and what are the best driving songs?

Again, it depends where I am. If I’m driving through Northern California, I’ll stop for some crabs and oysters, but if I’m in Louisiana it’s boudin and cracklins. Same with music. It could be a local Cajun radio station, or blues-rock.

Food and music pairings – can you pair a dish with:

Kings of Leon: Definitely pork. Folks from Tennessee are pretty fond of their barbecue, so I’d do a good, slow-cooked rib dish with cold beer.

The Neville Brothers: Well, they’re hometown, New Orleans boys, so I’d do something local, like a nice crawfish dish, a good steak and fries.

Rolling Stones: Looking at them, those guys have got to be on diets, but I’d go with duck confit and dirty rice with a citrus gastrique. And maybe some baked oysters with homemade ham and bacon. Still southern, but a bit more refined.

Britney Spears: Funny you should ask – she was at my brother-in-law’s place in Kenwood a couple weeks ago. I’m sure she’d like her home style-food, like chicken and dumplings with broccoli casserole.

If you could invite all of your favorite artists to a dinner party, who would you invite?

Definitely Elvis – I’m a huge fan and always have been. Jimmy Buffet would be a great dinner companion and I’ve met him before; he’s a real great guy. Maybe Keith Richards and the Kings of Leon.

What would you cook?

I’d do some sort of outdoor taco party, grill up some steaks and fish, fry some shrimp, and make fresh salsas and tortillas. You want to have time to hang out and eat at your own leisure. And we’d be drinking margaritas and cold beer!

What kind of music is good for cooking?

We don’t have music in the kitchen, but in the dining room you can’t go wrong with classics like Louis Armstrong, the Stones or Beatles, or old country like Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard.

What is your rock & roll fantasy?

If I could go back and see anyone, it’d be the Doors in ’67 or ’68.

What’s the one restaurant that you haven’t eaten at that you’re looking forward to?

I wouldn’t pick a restaurant. I’d go to Vietnam and eat street food. That’s sort of a dream.