Hello, 2017!

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Hello, 2017!

For a half of a decade now it seems like my life has been cyclical, alternating between years of rapid growth and laying a new foundation on which to build. In 2011 I was cast on Masterchef, started the Bite & Booze Radio Show, quit my day job and decided to chase my dreams not really knowing where that might take me or what dreams I was chasing.

Jay Ducote on Season 2 of Masterchef on Fox

Jay Ducote on Season 2 of Masterchef on Fox

2012 brought about laying the groundwork for those plans. I continued to grow the Bite and Booze blog and radio show and started cooking pop-up dinners.

2013 returned me to a level of growth, working on video projects, freelance writing and more to the point where it became very obvious that I could no longer do it all by myself if I wanted to continue to grow.

At the very beginning of 2014 I made my first hire adding Blair to the team, launched my product line with Jay D's Louisiana Barbecue Sauce, and appeared on an episode of Cutthroat Kitchen. It was a lot of hard work, but it was necessary to provide a platform for what would happen next.

Jay Ducote makes minestrone in a coffee pot on Cutthroat Kitchen, Season 4, Episode 8 "Ho-Ley Pot."

Jay Ducote makes minestrone in a coffee pot on Cutthroat Kitchen, Season 4, Episode 8 "Ho-Ley Pot."

In 2015 I saw another explosion. I filmed and watched myself crush the competition on Food Network Star all the way until finding out I would finish as runner up. I hired two new full time employees. I launched my Blanc du Bois wine and Louisiana Molasses Mustard. I also filmed a pilot for my own show on Travel Channel, Deep Fried America.

Jay Ducote speaks to the camera on Food Network Star season 11.

Jay Ducote speaks to the camera on Food Network Star season 11.

By comparison, 2016 moved much slower. Not that that means slow, by any means, but still a reduced pace. It has been an opportunity to reset, and to place building blocks for the future. We did manage to launch a new batch of Blanc Du Bois, get Jay D's Spicy & Sweet Barbecue Rub and Single Origin Coffee rolling, watch my pilot air on the Travel Channel, and cook at the legendary James Beard House. There were other fun projects along the way from the World Food Championships to the Pineywoods Supper Club and lots of fun travel and pop-up dinners in between. But still, 2016, as crazy of a year as it proved to be, was more about setting up the future. 

Jay Ducote pilot for Deep Fried America airs on Travel Channel. The viewing party was held at The Varsity in Baton Rouge.

Jay Ducote pilot for Deep Fried America airs on Travel Channel. The viewing party was held at The Varsity in Baton Rouge.

I'm expecting fireworks in 2017. Gov't Taco will be at the forefront of our growth. It'll bring a new business model, new employees and a renewed vision for what we do. Bite & Booze and Jay D's will continue to grow, perhaps at an accelerated rate. I'm hoping to get back on TV. I know of nothing for sure right now, but it seems like 2016 was just setting the stage for the lights to be shining even brighter in the new year.

I wish the best of luck to everyone in 2017. May it bring us all joy and prosperity. 

Happy New Year, indeed!

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Jay D's Single Origin Coffee

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Jay D's Single Origin Coffee

 

Jay Ducote collaborates with Baton Rouge’s Cafeciteaux Coffee Roasters to launch Jay D’s Single Origin Coffee, helping Dominican farmers and sustainable development education at Lycoming College at the same time.

My collection of small batch products is growing again, this time adding Jay D’s Single Origin Coffee to the mix. The project is one about which I have a multi-faceted excitement. While the coffee isn’t born out of Louisiana flavors like my Barbecue Sauce and Molasses Mustard or crafted with a Louisiana-grown product like my Blanc du Bois wine, it is still a project of passion, creation, collaboration and this time, caffeination.

I’ve always enjoyed coffee. It is a natural energy booster and there’s a reason that it is one of the world’s most consumed commodity products. It’s a particularly valuable agricultural resource to the developing nations in equatorial regions of the globe where coffee can be grown. Parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and Central/South America are the largest growers and exporters of coffee, and a lot of the their economy depends on the world’s coffee market.

Recently an opportunity came up that lit a fuse in my entrepreneurial spirit, and all things global are local somewhere. I have the pleasure of working with one of my most treasured friends, without whom I wouldn’t be the same person that I am today. I have the chance to support a farm in a country to which I have traveled a couple of times and whose culture I hold dear. I have the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of American college students who are studying political science, international relations, developing world economics and sustainable agriculture (I used to be the president of FFA in high school, after all). Finally, I have the fortune of being able to team up with a local Baton Rouge company that’s doing amazing things with care and the artisan craftsmanship that I respect, while collaborating on something unique and delicious.

Jay Ducote and Caroline Payne in 2006

Jay Ducote and Caroline Payne in 2006

Caroline Payne, who got me through grad school at LSU (I finished my masters in Political Science while she went on to complete her Ph. D.), belongs in a special classification of human beings reserved only for the most revered and respected. As my former officemate on the third floor of Stubbs Hall, she’d keep my desk stocked with whiskey and would finish her reading assignments early so that I could borrow her book; she’s that kind of special. And of course, I never bought the books.

A group of us would routinely gather for political science nerd nights where we’d consume copious amounts of alcohol and play Risk, the board game where you strategically move armies to conquer the world. One night, after proving that I could drink more than our friend Natasha (who was studying Russian politics and is by far the best vodka drinker I’ve ever known), we never reached the conclusion of the game, but Caroline was there to nurse me through the night. It was painful, but a victory nonetheless.

When I taught high school math and coached baseball after grad school, Caroline would volunteer her time to tutor my Cuban-born baseball players so they could make good, honest grades and be eligible to play the game that they love.

So obviously now, having received her doctorate from LSU and moved on to be Professor Payne at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania, I try to find every excuse possible to visit and continue our friendship. Today, Caroline leads expeditions of her students to the developing world to help them get a first-hand account of poverty and development and how their people can climb out of it. Through this, I saw a golden opportunity for us to work together again.

The Ramirez family, multi-generational coffee farmers in El Naranjito, Dominican Republic

The Ramirez family, multi-generational coffee farmers in El Naranjito, Dominican Republic

For several years, Caroline and her crew, including fellow political science professor Jonathan Williamson (who I’ve also met and very much respect and admire), have traveled to El Naranjito, a remote community in the mountains of central Dominican Republic where coffee growing and harvesting is pretty much the only means of revenue.

When Lycoming College makes the trip each spring with around a dozen students, they help the coffee growers with their efforts to farm sustainably by planting shade trees that improve the quality of coffee and provide them with secondary products to sell including avocados and macadamia nuts. They also help the farmers improve record-keeping, perform tests to determine water quality, improve access to clean water and purchase and plant new varietals of coffee.

Shade-grown coffees, which account for less than 1% of the global coffee supply, not only taste better but preserve natural habitats and help ensure the health and safety of coffee growers and coffee drinkers. The coffee from El Naranjito is grown using environmentally safe practices which will allow them to obtain Organic Certification in the future.

A Lycoming College student and El Naranjito farmer work to plant new trees in the community

A Lycoming College student and El Naranjito farmer work to plant new trees in the community

El Naranjito’s isolation has meant that the coffee farmers have been beholden to middlemen that pay them as a little as 5 to 8 cents per pound for the coffee they produce.  As a result, the coffee farmers there are some of the poorest in the world. The majority of this coffee has traditionally been neglected, with little oversight on quality, and all purchased by one company which mass-produces Dominican coffee. Most of that coffee is then consumed in the Dominican Republic, so there’s no reason to strive for higher quality and the ability to hit the global specialty grade coffee market.

Historically very little of the coffee grown in the Dominican Republic leaves the island, and most of what does hasn’t come to America, making Dominican-grown coffee a rare commodity in the states. Caroline tells me that only 3-5% of Dominican coffee is exported out of the country, and of that, over 90% of what does goes leave the borders goes to Europe. The opportunity to get our hands on Dominican coffee beans couldn't be passed up!

By working with the El Naranjito community to improve their agricultural practices and processing techniques, Caroline and her Lycoming team have enabled the production of high quality coffee and increased the farmers’ earnings to around $2 dollars per pound, thus greatly improving their standard of living in the process.

Green coffee beans (unroasted) in El Naranjito

Green coffee beans (unroasted) in El Naranjito

I’ve been to the Dominican Republic twice now and I’m hoping to go again in May to join the Lycoming team at El Naranjito. I wrote a four-part blog series about my first trip to the DR in 2013. It included one of the most memorable meals of my life. I went back earlier in 2016 for a wedding in Punta Cana. The food did little to inspire, and though the pirate ship booze cruise was indeed a good time, I longed to get off the beaten path and explore the real Dominican Republic.

The people make the Dominican Republic what it is. Their joie de vie reminds me of Louisiana, celebrating life and what they have rather than a focus on what they don’t. Everywhere you look there are smiles and people having good times, and there’s usually food. Good home cooking, which is seldom revolutionary but always soulful, is the Dominican food that I got used to -- the stuff that memories are made of. Pollo guisado and fried plantains highlighted the menu. Sure, most of it was peasant food, born out of poverty and necessity, but isn’t that where most of the great food cultures come from?

Test batch roasting of Jay D’s Single Origin Coffee at Cafeciteaux in Baton Rouge

Test batch roasting of Jay D’s Single Origin Coffee at Cafeciteaux in Baton Rouge

Hawaii is the only coffee growing region in the United States, so I couldn’t make a Louisiana coffee. However, the people of Louisiana are no stranger to a good cup of joe, and if I couldn’t grow coffee beans in Louisiana, the next best thing was to import Dominican coffee beans and roast them here at home.

I teamed up with Chris and Stevie from the Cafeciteaux Coffee Roasters. They know a thing or two about how to treat a coffee bean. So after the beans got sent from El Naranjito to Baton Rouge via Pennsylvania (perhap we’ll streamline that next year), the next step was to roast them with Cafeciteaux.

After doing some testing we decided that a medium roast would treat this coffee with the respect it deserves. It truly is a lovely coffee with flavors of milk chocolate, fig and nutmeg. We could also taste hints of toffee, creme brulée and citrus. I’m extremely excited about drinking more of it and sharing the hard work of the farmers and roasters alike with everyone I know.

Mock-Up of Jay D’s Single Origin Coffee

Mock-Up of Jay D’s Single Origin Coffee

The purchase of Jay D’s Single Origin Coffee supports Lycoming College’s sustainable development initiatives. Simply by purchasing the green (unroasted) coffee beans we’ve already jump-started that process by helping the farm. We’re also donating $1 per bag sold back to Lycoming College which will be split between their Transition Fund which helps develop El Naranjito (planting trees, water/soil chemistry, etc.) and making it possible for Lycoming students to travel to the Dominican Republic. There they will get the hands-on experience to learn how creative and mutually beneficial partnerships can produce coffee with amazing flavor while advancing responsible agricultural practices and provide family-sustaining incomes for remote farmers in the Dominican Republic.

Together, we can do what’s right by making educated and responsible decisions as consumers while drinking amazing coffee.

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Deep Fried America pilot to air on Travel Channel

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Deep Fried America pilot to air on Travel Channel

jaydeepfriedamerica

Feeling the sting of my loss in the finale of Food Network Star back last August didn't sit well with me. It lingered on my mind and motivated me to continue to push forward with my career. I knew I had what it took. I knew I'd have other opportunities come my way. I just didn't know where that path would lead.

A few weeks after Food Network Star went off the air I got a call from the Network. They asked if I'd still be interested in doing Deep Fried America, the pilot I shot for the finale of Food Network Star with Rachael Ray. Of course I said yes. 

They assigned me to a production company, Magnetic, and we started talking about filming a full episode pilot for the show. 

In November, I slipped away to Austin, Tx. to film an half-hour episode for Deep Fried America. I had a blast exploring the city and all the deliciousness that emerged from their deep fryers. 

jayducoteaustin

December and January were full of eager anticipation, waiting for Magnetic to finish the editing process so the brass at Food Network could evaluate the show. I did several rounds of voice over to make sure the soundbites were just right. 

And then I waited.

March and April came and went. I knew the Network had seen the pilot, but all I could do was keep waiting. Hoping. Wishing.

jaydeepfriedamericalogo

Then I got an email. It came from the president of Magnetic Productions. "Air Date!!" the email's subject line read. Saturday, June 25, 12:30 CT, on Travel Channel. 

Travel Channel!?

Truth be told, I dreamed of having my own show on Travel Channel long before I ever thought about Food Network. You see, I've developed into a pretty good cook, but what I'm truly gifted at is eating and drinking, and there's no better way to experience culture than to eat and drink while traveling. 

Five years ago, if you had asked me what my end goal was, I would have said to have my own show on Travel Channel. When the Baton Rouge Business Report named me in their 2011 class of Forty Under 40, they asked me if I could have any job other than my own, what would it be? I responded, "Anthony Bourdain's job. Maybe I'll get there by the time I'm 50."

I was 30 then. I'm 34 now. And I'm about have a pilot air for my own show on Travel Channel.

There's a lot more to the story, and if you catch me in person one day I'll explain why the runner-up on Food Network Star is possibly getting to do a show on Travel Channel. The very short answer is that Scripps Networks is the parent company that owns Food Network, Cooking Channel, HGTV and Travel Channel. My contract is with them. So sure, I may have been on Food Network Star, but they have the ability to place me on any of their networks, and they saw a better fit for Deep Fried America on Travel Channel.

Just to reiterate, this is only a pilot. Travel Channel has not yet ordered a full season of the show. I'm sure hoping they do, but they won't make that decision until after the show airs and they collect some data.

So what can you do? Watch the show every time it airs between June 25 and July 4. Set your DVR to record it. Tell your friends to watch it, too. Come to my viewing party at The Varsity in Baton Rouge, La. on June 25 starting at noon. Post about it on social media and tag #deepfriedamerica, @travelchannel and @jayducote. We'll be active on social media as always, ready to answer any questions you might have and engage in conversation.

I'm extremely excited about this opportunity, more excited than I have been about anything since going to film Food Network Star nearly a year and a half ago. However, I'm always looking ahead and keeping my eye on what's next. The goal wasn't to shoot a pilot for my own show on Food Network or Travel Channel; the goal is to film a whole season. And then another one. And then another. And to keep chasing that dream. 

So here we go. Saturday, June 25, 12:30 p.m. Central, Travel Channel. See you there!

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Journey to the James Beard House

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Journey to the James Beard House

jay ducote james beard

I'm excited to announce I've been invited to cook an LSU Tailgate Party themed dinner at the world-renowned James Beard House in New York City on July 21! In going to New York, I am happy to be representing Louisiana and its foodways on a national platform with the help of my team as well as my friends Chef Aimee Tortorich and Chef Eusebio Gongora.

The dinner will begin with passed appetizers paired with Louisiana brews and inspired cocktails. The seated dinner menu will feature five courses inspired by my time on Food Network Star and tailgating. Courses will be paired with wine and cocktails featuring Jay D's Blanc du Bois from Landry Vineyards, the Vending Machine Winery and the Donner-Peltier Distillery.

james beard menu

I've also been invited to cook at the James Beard Foundation's Chefs & Champagne event at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in the Hamptons on July 23. This year’s event honors fellow Louisiana chef John Besh, and it's going to be a blast.

Getting invited to cook at the James Beard House is a huge honor, but it is also a charitable dinner that raises money for the James Beard Foundation. Chefs who cook at the house do so at their own expense, so we have to be able to cover the costs of the food and drinks plus our travel and lodging for both the James Beard House and Chefs & Champagne. I’m estimating we’ll spend over $10,000 making this happen, and we’d love to help raise more money for the Foundation, so every donation, ticket to our preview dinners and sponsorship is appreciated.

We set up a GoFundMe page to help defray the costs of making the trip to New York and to help raise money for the James Beard Foundation. Donations can be made at gofundme.com/jayducote.

To anyone interested in flying out, tickets to the James Beard House dinner in New York will be available starting in June at jamesbeard.org. LCI in Baton Rouge will host a preview dinner for locals to attend on July 8. Tickets will benefit the LCI Foundation and the James Beard Foundation and are available at tailgateon12th.eventbrite.com. We will even be available to do some preview dinners for up to 12 people. Contact me at jay@biteandbooze.com if you're interested!

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