Bryan G. Krantz

Head Cook & Pot Washer, Louisiana Craft Butchers & Tailgate Tigers

“Self-Taught” is a popular term of art when it comes to people without formal training in the culinary arts. When I think about how I learned to cook and prepare food, I realize that I have been taught by so many mentors, I can’t remember them all. Some were formally trained in prestigious shrines of culinary acclaim, like Le Cordon Bleu in Paris or Johnson & Wales. Some were just feeding their families. Some are renowned chefs headlining some of the finest restaurants in South Louisiana. And some were college roommates feeding our Friday night gathering of friends. The truth is, we stop learning when we have eaten our last meal.

Food culture in Louisiana is simple: we live to eat. We eat it all and go back for more. The history of where those flavors come from and how the people who passed the recipes down is what makes our area so special. Food brings us all together so we can share fellowship and talk about our life memories. We pass the flavors and stories on to the next generation. It’s a ritual as old as primeval fireside interaction. We are still cavemen talking about the hunt.

I was the youngest of my group and was relegated to being babysat by the camp cook. Lucky me. I got to sample everything for doneness, seasoning, flavor, and texture. I got to chop the vegetables, stir the roux, and wash the pots. We were cooking our parents and grandparents recipes. Every time we gathered and started organizing the meal, it was a séance of those we loved who had passed before. We paid homage to all the nostalgia of the times past.

My mother took classes with Warren Leruth, one of New Orleans most iconic Chef’s, and Roland Huet of Christian’s (A legacy restaurant of the Galatoire’s Family). She would pass on the processes and so many important elements that were lost on my desire to be somewhere other than the kitchen preparing a Sunday meal.

My mother Marie’s interest in cooking classes had more to do with wanting to be educated about the kitchen operation of Jefferson Downs then it did with the Sunday home dinner. Jefferson Downs was the suburban New Orleans Thoroughbred Race Track she managed and later owned.  So year after year, we reviewed menus, processes, concession equipment, and dining room structures. At the time, it was a small part of what we did, but it started to seep into my collective programing by osmosis.

We lived in a third floor apartment behind the administrative offices of Jefferson Downs, and night racing was too much of a distraction. My near failing sixth grade because I was learning how to handicap the horses as a twelve year old didn’t sit well. I was sent to boarding school at St. Paul’s School in Covington, LA. Our Publicity Director, Allen “Black Cat” LaCombe offered to send me the Daily Racing Form by currier, but I think Marie had them intercepted.

As I got older, I was blessed with friends who enjoyed cooking and ate well. Most had families with great food culture. Some of those families have spawned some of the mainstay restaurants on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, across from New Orleans.

The old adage “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” works the other way too. My wife couldn’t resist my rice, gravy, green beans, and potato salad. She was also very impressed by my steak grilling ability. She showed me how to make Chicken and Dumplings with Crowder Peas, her homage to her Florida Parish dairy farming family roots. So we have been married 38 years and raised two children who love to cook.

One of our first missions after we were able to purchase the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans was to audition Corn Beef suppliers in order to maintain one of New Orleans strangest food traditions. The race track has had a long history of providing the finest Corn Beef in the city. Nice thick slices of steaming Corn Beef on a French Bread Pistollette makes a cold winter day at the races a great place to be.

Another mission we were passionate about was preserving the history of the third oldest Thoroughbred race course in America. We formed a nonprofit, the Fair Grounds Racing Museum, and this entity began to gather memorabilia. We began databasing all still and moving images to preserve the contribution the Fair Grounds has made to New Orleans and the horse racing world. One of our major fundraising efforts was a 17 year stint as a food booth vendor at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival hosted at Fair Grounds every spring. Vickie oversaw the organization of our efforts.

Our booth served grilled Crawfish Cakes and Oyster and Artichoke Soup in a bread round. For the last two years we served Andouille Calas and Sweet Calas. The Calas is a New Orleans cultural antebellum food. Calas are rice fritters. A sweet Calas is similar to a Beignet. The rice fritter is deep fried, topped with powdered sugar and dipped in sweet cane syrup.

After leaving Fair Grounds, Vickie wanted to use our foodservice experience to open a restaurant near our home. We opened Calas Bistro after Hurricane Katrina and worked at it for two years before surrendering to the post-Katrina economic downturn. It was a fun project, but our timing was bad, and the suburban location didn’t work as well as we had hoped.

Our children started to grow up and we spent our summer, weekends and many holidays at our lake house on False River near New Roads. On warm weather holidays, we would host 20 to 25 of their friends and classmates for weekends on the river at the Krantz Bed & Breakfast. Vickie and I produced three meals a day, ran the boat, and did the laundry. These were great times.

As the kids matriculated from high school to college, we started to tailgate at LSU. The progression to full blown field kitchen at pre-football tailgates was done in the blink of an eye. On big game days, our guests numbered near 100 people. We roasted whole hogs for the Arkansas game (The Razorbacks), a five foot alligator stuffed with Boudin for the Florida Game (The Gators), and full rib Tomahawk Ribeye’s for McNeese (The Cowboys). We cooked 20 gallons of Jambalaya and learned how to fry Cracklins from my dad.

From this sprang our second nonprofit food venture. Tailgate Tigers is our nonprofit group supporting our team effort for Hogs For The Cause.

Hogs is a larger nonprofit effort supporting families who have children afflicted with pediatric brain cancer. The event happens every spring over a Friday evening and Saturday. It is a two-stage music event with nearly 100 food booths serving any type of pork product you can imagine. It is also a barbecue competition with nearly 90 teams competing in different categories. Tailgate Tigers have placed 4th in Whole Hog and 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in Pork Shoulder in our eight year participation. Our team has swelled to nearly 30 members and our fundraising efforts have grown to contribute as much as $15,000 annually from Tailgate Tigers to the cause.

Covid has led us to learn new ways to fundraise for Tailgate Tigers. We found Dan Robert teaching classes on how to make Boudin and Hogshead Cheese and other meat processing products. We thought the additional products to supplement our Barbecue would allow us to do some pop-up, grab-and-go type fundraising. We kept going to class and learning new products.

From those sessions Dan and I began to discuss a meat processing project.

This discussion led to the formation of Louisiana Craft Butchers. Dan is a fourth generation butcher who grew up in and is formally educated in his craft. So, yes Dan became the latest in my “self-taught” succession of camp cooks. We share a Cajun culture, but oddly enough, have explored the nuanced differences in Dan’s “Bayou Cajun” and my “Prairie Cajun” roots.  We worked together for two years at our test kitchen in Kenner before Dan moved on to full-time employment at Coastal Plains Meats in Eunice, LA. Dan continues to advise and consult and keep us on the right path.

Every family’s Gumbo is slightly different, and every little Cajun Village’s Boudin is slightly different. We want to bring the whole experience to you and let you taste the broad range of color of not only our Cajun heritage but the German, Italian, Jewish, African, Caribbean, and other cultures who make up the rich culture we enjoy.