Tuesday, April 1, 2008

From Jerry Lee's Kwik Stop Comes a Slow Cooked Labor of Love by Herpreet Singh

From Country Roads Magazine, April 2008

The sign, a standard order strip mall accoutrement tacked to a run-of-the-mill strip mall, declares, “If it’s not Jerry Lee’s, it’s not Boudin.” In Baton Rouge, this may be an absolute truth. The staff at Jerry Lee’s Kwik Stop begins making not only boudin, but also cracklins, pork skins, hogs head cheese, smoked sausage, andoullie sausage, tasso, Italian sausage, green onion sausage, barbeque beef and smoked meat for gumbos and seasonings at the astoundingly early hour of 2 am daily, six days a week.

On the surface, Jerry Lee’s Kwik Stop is just another convenient store—its obvious distinction from countless Circle Ks being that it’s not a national chain. Walk inside, and you’ll discover a first-rate Louisiana specialty meats operation. Started in 1977 by St. Martinville native Jerry Lee Duplantis, and located next to a Mary Lee’s Donut shop on Greenwell Springs Road in north Baton Rouge, Jerry Lee’s Kwik Stop brings the distinct flavors of Acadiana to the Capital City.

One of ten kids, Duplantis grew up on a sugarcane farm where his parents also raised animals. “We were six boys and four girls, and we learned to do Cajun meats from boucheries. In the old days our parents would roast pigs and make boudin and hogs head cheese with the unused trimmings.”

In his own boudin, Duplantis uses pork roast and pork livers. The meat is ground on site, and the rice, gravy, and pork are each cooked separately. The ingredients are then mixed together and stuffed into natural casings before they go into an ice bath to cool.

Duplantis says he wanted his business to be more than a typical convenient shop, so he started making boudin. It took him a year to get the mix right and to get his business going. Over time, he added the other products. Though it isn’t visible from the storefront, at the back of his shop, there is a room dedicated to making cracklins and pork skins in gigantic cast iron pots. The cracklins are made at 5:30 am and cook for about two hours.

Smoked meats are the last addition to his business. Duplantis’ son, who is now grown and works with him in the store, always wanted to eat beef jerky as a kid. Duplantis decided he would try to make jerky himself, so he built a smokehouse. Showing off the smoker, Duplantis notes with pride, “No liquid smoke. We use real pecan wood.”

Cooking duty ends around 11 am, at which point the kitchen and production areas are cleaned and prepped for the next day’s cooking shift. While it’s called Jerry Lee’s Kwik Stop, and indeed, a customer stop-in is a speedy affair, Duplantis’ boudin and other products are a slow-cooked labor of love and local culture that warrant a long and steady gaze.

It’s easy to presume that strip malls breed no culture. But all-too-often, our most precious traditions and some of our newest cultural additions crop up, blossom and carry on within the walls of these non-descript exteriors. Where else in Baton Rouge will you find a more authentic boudin and pepper jack cheese poboy?

Culture is complex, layered, usually complicated; it evolves often, by making something from nothing. Occasionally, you taste culture before you see it—but it’s there, hidden in nooks and crannies, in this case, hidden cast iron cracklin’ vats and homemade smokehouses at the back of a strip mall.

LINK TO STORY: Jerry Lee's Kwik Stop

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