Jerry Lee Keeps Flavor A Family Tradition

At a quaint house set back from an old Central road, two youngsters screamed with excitement as their grandpa chased them with a lasso rope in hand and a big smile on his face. In the distance, a pair of horses stood with thick tails that swayed from side to side. A mixture of spicy aromas and a warm feeling of southern hospitality became stronger with every step taken closer to the Duplantis home.

If anyone should be given credit for keeping Cajun flavor alive in Louisiana it’s Gerard Lee Duplantis, better known as Jerry Lee of Jerry Lee’s Cajun Foods in Baton Rouge, the king of boudin whose hands have held a seasoning secret for 33 years. He may be king now, but it didn’t come easy. This is a story of hard work and sacrifice by Duplantis and his family—a story that begins with Duplantis’ father and mother and his Cajun French heritage.

 Duplantis began his story with family. Not the family that sat glued to his side at the dining room table just yet. Instead the 63-year-old decided to jump back in time, noting that he wouldn’t be here if not for his father and mother. His gray beard moved a bit when he spoke, and words rolled off his tongue reflecting his Cajun French heritage.

Fifty years ago Harold Armond Duplantis laid eyes on Helen Adele Rist in a small café along the railroad tracks of Slidell. Once they married, they moved across the Bayou Teche and decided to start a family. This is where it all began, said Duplantis proudly holding out an old black and white photo of his brothers and sisters. You could tell he was about to dig deep into one of his favorite subjects.

Growing up with nine siblings on a sugarcane farm in St. Martinsville, La. was everything but boring, he said. Animals were always around. They raised pigs, cattle and chickens for money and food for their own tummies. With only one heater, their two-bedroom shotgun home would sometimes get so cold that water left in pots on the counter would freeze overnight.

They were poor, he said, but they worked together. He always enjoyed watching his father and brothers cook. They taught him that a chicken can easily be de-feathered by soaking it in hot water. He also learned to make hogs head cheese, an item that later became one of the best sellers on Jerry Lee’s menu.

As a young boy, Duplantis browsed through small stores in the area and one day discovered something in their rice cookers he’d never seen before. They called it boudin. “I thought to myself, I bet I can make that,” he said, so he asked a local shop owner for a general idea about how to make the Southern Louisiana specialty, a sausage stuffed with ground pork, rice and spices that made taste buds dance the Cajun two-step.

Duplantis left the farm in 1967 to work in the oil industry. He drilled for Texaco and Shell in the Gulf of Mexico for two years, but he disliked working the long 12-hour shifts. Once he left, he found a job he enjoyed when he became a surveyor for the Salt Conservation Service. The hours were much better he said, and the job also came with insurance and retirement benefits.

After seven years of surveying around Louisiana, he met his wife, Debbie Jones Duplantis. It wasn’t until they married that he decided to exercise his cooking skills and put his passion to the test. “I grew up shy,” he said, which was one of the greatest challenges he had to overcome when he took over the store. The whole family laughed around the table, reminding one another about a story Duplantis told them about his civics teacher. She failed him two years in a row for refusing to speak in front of the class. He finally passed civics the third year, but he pointed out it was probably because he had a different teacher.

His people skills grew immensely in 1968 when he took over the meat market convenient store located at 12181 Greenwell Springs Road in Baton Rouge. He changed the store’s name from Kwik to Jerry Lee’s Kwik Shop where people could buy gas, tobacco products and beer. However, something was missing, and an idea sparked when he thought back to what he loved to eat in those rice cookers as a kid.

Throwing ingredients into a sausage stuffer powered by hand, Duplantis tasted and tweaked his creation for a year until he finally got it right. He made his first 15 pounds of boudin stuffing exactly to his liking and not long after, discovered his recipe also tickled the taste buds of many others.

His store would need a new name and a bigger pot.

So that’s exactly what he did. He booted “Kwik Shop” from the store’s sign and replaced it with the phrase “Cajun Foods”.

Today he makes about 600 pounds of boudin a day using one water-powered stuffer that grinds 100 pounds of pork, rice and vegetables. Every ingredient has an exact measurement, but out of 16 employees that work at Jerry Lee’s Cajun Foods, not a single one knows the exact measurements.

 His son Gerard Lee Duplantis, also known as “Little Jerry,” knows just about everything else. He can squirt boudin stuffing into its casing and tie the case shut with his eyes closed. He said he learned by watching his dad and by practicing a lot over the years.

Locking eyes with his father across the table, Little Jerry explained what it takes to run his father’s shop on a typical weekday. From feeding plant workers at 5 a.m. to making sure there are enough cracklings and beef jerky for hungry customers, Little Jerry’s learning to do it all. He enjoys cooking for big events. “It’s harder to cook for small groups of people than it is for large groups,” he said. Game days are a prime example.

Not only does profit double during LSU football season, the amount of food they must prepare doubles. The store opens at 5 a.m. on any regular Saturday, so cooking ahead of time for game day Saturday sometimes means starting at midnight to get enough food ready for Tiger Tailgaters. Duplantis’ daughter Annie Borill chimed in as she rocked her newest son Jude in her arms. “They cook all night long.”

Even having to cook long hours with others, Duplantis manages to keep his popular boudin recipe hush-hush. Other than being locked in his own noggin, he keeps the secret recipe in a safety deposit box that his son and daughter will get to open one day. As far as store expansion goes, their father said that’s in their hands, too.

Duplantis said he hopes Jerry Lee’s Cajun Food remains a family tradition, eventually being passed down to the family surrounding him at the dining room table.

Despite setbacks over the past years, Jerry Lee’s Cajun Foods remains strong. The store has flooded three times, once with four feet of water in ‘83. A tornado tore off the roof in ‘95 and Little Jerry remembers mopping up rain water with a squeegee. As a new roof was being put on, he said his father was in the back continuing to cook.

Instead of going back outside to play, Duplantis’ grandsons sat content, listening to their grandpa while snacking on chips and guacamole dip. After refilling each grandson’s paper plate with hot boudin, Mrs. Duplantis sat back down next to her husband and proudly looked him in the eyes. “He had to work hard to get it, but the lord gave him that help, too.”

Advertisements
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: