Making It Like They Used To

Since taking on a beloved culinary enterprise, this chef has been embracing the past.

Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and Wayne Jacob’s Smokehouse is burning it up in LaPlace!

The food culture surrounding the 72-year-old establishment illustrates the fine nuances of Cajun culture on the German coast. And no one understands and appreciates Wayne Jacob’s role in the River Parish community like Chef Jarred Zeringue, who can trace his own ancestors there back to 1721. The Vacherie native has childhood memories of shopping for andouille at Wayne Jacob’s with his maternal grandmother, Winnie Chauvin. That flavor profile was so essential in her recipes her brother Lewis boasted that with one bite of gumbo he could tell if it was Wayne Jacob’s or not.

Consequently, when Zeringue purchased the business in 2016 with partner Matt Moreland, the entire family pressured him not to “screw it up.” At the time, Zeringue was operating two French Quarter restaurants, but the smokehouse became a passion project for him.

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“I set out to celebrate and preserve the food traditions of South Louisiana at Wayne Jacob’s,” he said. “Original recipes are still meticulously prepared in small batches — the traditional but time-consuming way. Our andouille is made of pork, salt, pepper and garlic, enclosed in natural casing, and smoked low and slow over wood.”

Scrupulously authentic, Zeringue is hands-on through the whole process. After harvesting water oak from his family’s farm in nearby Wallace, Louisiana, he splits and cures the wood himself before building and tending the fires, butchering the meat, and stuffing the sausage — just as it’s always been done. He has also expanded the smokehouse’s selection with house-made cracklings, beef and tasso jerky, along with hogshead cheese and andouille chips. Unique to Wayne Jacob’s, the chips are made from thinly sliced andouille, deep fried to a satisfying crunch. Served with Creole mustard for dipping, they’re positively addictive.

After operating EAT New Orleans and Vacherie restaurants for over a decade, Zeringue is now solely focused on Wayne Jacob’s Café, where daily lunch specials like white beans with fresh sausage and crackling cornbread are featured, along with chicken andouille gumbo and other classic offerings. The surrounding property is lush, with blackberries and figs growing among native citrus and pecan trees. Several dozen chickens roam the grounds, providing eggs for the restaurant’s pies and cakes.

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Photos from a 1950s family boucherie —depicting Zeringue’s courting grandparents — hang in the café next to the original smokehouse cutting boards, which were crafted from ancient cypress slabs. A closeup of founder Nat Jacob’s well-weathered hands adds a particularly sentimental touch.

With so much delicious history in the offing, Zeringue was compelled to record his family’s stories and recipes in a new book entitled “Southern and Smoked — Cajun Cooking Through the Seasons.” While conducting historical research at the Louisiana State Museum, Zeringue came across a collection of archival images from the late 19th and early 20th century credited to Olinde Schexnayder, his grandmother’s first cousin. The cache of silver negatives was discovered in a St. John Parish attic in the 1980s and donated to the museum. Among the images is a photo of Zeringue’s family enjoying a summer picnic posing with sticks of andouille sausage casually laid on the blanket as coats dangle from nearby tree branches. In another from the winter of 1899, the family perches on the edge of the Mississippi River, shown nearly frozen over with blocks of ice.

Even more precious are family recipes like “keks” — a fried bread that grandmother Anabell Schexnayder Zeringue always made for sleepovers — and great-grandmother Esperance Leroux Chauvin’s Tarte à la Bouille. Zeringue’s contemporary touch is also revealed in light dishes like his watermelon and corn salad, which includes smoked poblano vinegar from Wayne Jacob’s.

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For Zeringue, the most satisfying part of owning the smokehouse is watching third-generation customers continue their own family’s food traditions — using Wayne Jacob’s andouille to guarantee that their gumbo tastes just like grandma’s.

Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.


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