By Karla Wall
When Ryan Trahan, new head chef at Blue Dog Café in Lake Charles, took over the position a couple of months ago, he had a clear philosophy and mission.
He points to the famed “Blue Dog” art pieces by the late artist George Rodrigue adorning the walls of the restaurant’s spacious dining area.
“George worked so hard telling the story of Cajun culture through his artwork,” Trahan says. “I want to continue to tell that story, on a plate.”
He’d be the one to do it. A Crowley native, Trahan cooked with his grandmother as a boy, and grew up working in the family restaurant in Crowley.
“I worked at a place my family had owned since the 60s, with my grandfather and father,” he says. He learned not only how to prepare authentic Cajun dishes, but also what it takes to run a restaurant on a daily basis.
After receiving his degree from UL-L, Trahan opened a breakfast restaurant with his father-in-law, and later sold his interest in the place to his father-in-law to open Dark Roux in Lafayette.
The restaurant featured locally sourced ingredients, something that was important to Trahan.
“We had local farmers producing rabbits and quail for us; a farmer from St. Martinville supplied our cheeses. Everything was made or grown within 100 miles of the restaurant.”
And he was as particular about the staff at Dark Roux as he was his ingredients.
“I wanted to elevate the cooking techniques of the chefs and staff — to push their limits,” he says.
That kind of commitment can easily take away from family life, though and that was the case with Trahan.
“I was working so many hours a week that it just wasn’t sustainable with a family,” he says.
When good friend Jacques Rodrigue, son of the late artist and head of the family’s restaurant empire, asked him to take over the Blue Dog locations in Lake Charles and Lafayette, it was a great deal for both Trahan and the restaurants.
Trahan’s philosophy is simple:
“I want to bring Cajun cuisine into the modern age, elevate it using sustainable, locally sourced ingredients and expanding on the technology available today.
“Cajun cooking is 100 years old. Lots of ingredients used in early Cajun cuisine don’t exist anymore. It’s evolved. We want to try to show the relevance of Cajun cuisine today and show how it’s evolved, both the food and the culture.”
The menu changes at Blue Dog reflect that philosophy, with new dishes such as the cracklin-crusted red snapper with pickled crawfish tails, smoked mushrooms, ham and gnocchi.
“The dish takes the traditional components of Cajun cuisine, like cracklins, and elevate them to something new.”
And it was a red snapper dish that earned Trahan the title of 2018 Louisiana King of Seafood at the annual contest. Trahan beat out 11 other chefs from around the South for the title, preparing a cracklin crusted red snapper with pickled crawfish tails, buttermilk chili Consommé, spring vegetables, burnt leek oil and bowfin caviar.
He also earned a spot on Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine’s 2017 Chefs to Watch list.
Here’s another of Trahan’s favorite dishes: broiled oysters with bone marrow butter. Enjoy!
Bone Marrow Herb Butter
3 large marrow bones
(canoe cut works best)
1 stick butter
3 tbsp. fresh parsley (chopped)
1 tsp. fresh thyme (chopped)
1 tsp. salt
Heat oven to 425 degrees and roast marrow bones for 15-20 minutes until completely cooked through.
Temper butter in the microwave in a small bowl on low setting in 30-second intervals until completely melted.
Remove marrow from bones and add to butter along with any fat from the roasting pan, fresh herbs and salt.
Fill a medium bowl with ice and place small bowl inside. Add remaining ingredients to the butter and whisk until butter has re emulsified and solidified
Store cold until ready to use.
1 dozen fresh oysters (in the shell)
(preferably Gulf caught)
6 tbsp. marrow herb butter
½ cup Gruyere cheese (shredded)
3/4 cup bread crumbs or cornbread
Fresh chopped parsley. (for garnish)
Pickled red onion (optional)
2 to 3 wedges lemon (for serving)
French bread (toasted)
Add a layer of rock salt to a rimmed baking sheet, or substitute dry, uncooked rice. This will keep the oyster shells from wobbling. And heat the oven to a high broil.
Scrub the oyster shells with a stiff brush. Carefully shuck the oysters over a bowl (to catch any liquids that might spill out). Run the knife along the bottom of the inside of the shell to loosen the oyster
In a skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until the crumbs are lightly browned.
Top each oyster with a heaping teaspoon of the marrow herb butter and then sprinkle each one with Gruyere cheese.
Broil the oysters in the preheated oven for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and slightly toast, remove to add the bread crumbs and cook until the topping is golden brown about 1 more minute.
Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley, top with pickled red onion and serve with lemon wedges