Jay Ducote is a chef, speaker, writer, entertainer and hugger from Baton Rouge. His passion for flavor has its roots in LSU tailgating, and after working as a high school math teacher, baseball coach and policy researcher, the LSU Political Science graduate decided to pursue his taste for the epicurean full-time. His interests lead him through multimedia and cross-country excursions including his blog, the award-winning Bite and Booze radio show, and numerous television appearances showcasing his culinary zeal. He’s appeared on Cutthroat Kitchen, Eat St., Last Call Food Brawl and was a finalist on season 11 of Food Network Star. In the summer of 2016 Jay announced his new restaurant, Gov’t Taco, in Baton Rouge’s Mid City. Most recently, Jay’s joined forces with Cafeciteaux Coffee Roasters, combining his academic training with his culinary passion. The goal: provide high-quality coffee and effective sustainable farming education, underscoring that food and drink bring people together in globally profound ways.
Jay, who is one of the speakers at TEDxLSU 2017 on March 11, took time out from a tour of Texas, where he was putting on Red Bean & Rice pop-up dinners at breweries and researching tacos, to talk about his winding career path and inspiration.
So you’re searching for taco inspiration now. What gets you excited about tacos?
What got me into tacos and why we wanted to open a taco shop is that a taco is a perfect embodiment of whatever food we want to cook. Really we can take whatever flavors we want and put it in the form of a taco and make it easy to eat. That being said, the perfect taco to me has to have different layers of flavors and textures and colors — really everything you would want in a fine-dining dish, you’d have to wrap it up in a taco.
When you travel, what kind of foods do you seek out?
I always try to find what’s local. Part of what I’ve done in Baton Rouge has very much been to support the local food scene and to celebrate local food, and Louisiana has a lot to be proud of as far as that goes. When I do travel, I like to do the same thing: find what’s unique and indigenous to the places I travel to and eat that food because that’s the kind of stuff that I can’t get back home.
What’s your go-to comfort food when you’re cooking at home?
Usually just something on the grill — chicken, pork chops, cooking my own steak. Anything along those lines. I like that style of cooking. It’s what I grew up with, so there certainly is comfort in it for me.
What did you take away from your Food Network experience?
To have confidence in myself and what I’m doing. I think before that I didn’t necessarily have a whole lot of confidence in my own skills and my own ability both on camera and cooking-wise to be able to compete at that level. Food Network Star was a little bit of an eye-opening experience, giving me confidence that I do belong at that level.
What’s something that people might find surprising about the production of a show like that?
Just the timeline of how it gets filmed. It takes longer to film than maybe what it seems. But a lot of people think it’s actually week-to-week, and it’s definitely not that either. It basically took three production days per episode. We would usually film like two episodes a week and have a day off, and then film two more episodes the next week. Also, in my experience, one of the main things that maybe people wouldn’t quite realize is truly how in the dark we are about all the challenges that they give us. They want us to be surprised on camera, so they throw twists and turns at us and tell us to cook crazy stuff.
What advice would you give aspiring chefs who hope to follow your career path?
Work really hard. Be a person that other people want to be around. Whether you’re a dishwasher or a line cook or a head chef, you’re running a kitchen, and being someone people want to be around is one of the main things you have to do to be successful. Especially in this day and age, you need to have those leadership qualities and be someone people can easily work with.
If you could switch jobs with another TEDxLSU speaker, who would it be and why?
I really love what Xero Skidmore does. He’s very motivational; his spoken word and poetry is a really awesome talent that he has that he expresses in so many ways. The fact that he translates all of that into an educational setting and gives back through his work with kids is really cool.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?
I would love to have dinner with both of my grandfathers. They both died when I was pretty young, and I never really got to know them. My grandfather on my mom’s side passed when I was 11 or 12, so I certainly had memories of him, but I didn’t get to talk to him. I just really enjoyed going to their houses and seeing them.
You mentioned that tailgating was your main inspiration for cooking; was that all self-taught?
A lot of my cooking has been self-taught. I had some help with tailgating parties when I was in college. I had a cousin who taught me a lot of the basics like getting flavors together, grilling and outdoor frying. And I had another really good friend — an awesome chef in town now — and we tailgated together back in the day and did a lot of cooking. I learned so much during that process and then it got refined when I started doing the blog and doing all this for a living.
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