Each week, Ashley Locklear buys hundreds of pounds of vegetables, pork and other ingredients for the Link Restaurant Group, chef Donald Link's company that includes Herbsaint, Cochon (and the new Cochon in Lafayette), Cochon Butcher and the event hall Calcasieu. Locklear spends half of her time on the road, shuttling between farms, farmers markets and Link's restaurants, making a loop from the city to a network of farms mostly on the Northshore and in the River Parishes area. She also works with suppliers so farmers will grow specific varieties Link and his chefs want on their menus. Locklear previously worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Hollygrove Market & Farm, where she first started developing contacts with local farmers and urban growers.
Gambit icon: Why does a restaurant group have a forager position?
Locklear: Chefs have limited time; they can't be constantly checking in with farmers about what's available and what will be coming in week to week. They're on opposite schedules from the farmers anyway. But I'm out there talking with the farmers all the time. I'm visiting them, I might text back to the chefs about what they have, or send them pictures from the field of something that looks really good, see if they want to use it.
G: You've been on the job for about a year and a half. Has your network of suppliers grown in that time?
L: Yes. Everybody knows everybody in Louisiana, so when I meet someone now, they have already heard about me from so-and-so and we build on those relationships. We work with about 20 different farms now, including some seasonal growers doing blueberries or figs. The biggest farm we work with is about 13 to 15 acres. A lot of them are between five and 10 acres. We also work with urban growers, and now I'm trying to work with a seed-saving society in Lafayette that will start planting some of these older regional varieties.
G: Has the job changed the way you eat?
L: It's definitely changed the way I cook and how I plan for my meals. I need to eat what's growing so I can have those conversations about it with the farmers. Looking at magazine recipes now, I ask myself how much of the ingredients I can get locally and how I can plan when to get it all.