Baton Rouge Chef Don Bergeron got his start just down the bayou from Donaldsonville in his grandmother’s kitchen. He always watched the woman cook the family’s meals from scratch, often using food the family of seven grew or caught.
Now the owner of Bergeron’s City Market, he still uses that philosophy as a basis for the meals he makes today.
“A lot of our family activities revolved around food.”
Bergeron began baking when he was around 8-years-old, and he never looked back. As he grew, so did his interest in cooking. He got his first job in a restaurant at 14, bussing tables at Lafitte’s Landing in Donaldsonville. He’s been in the food industry ever since.
Now 52, Bergeron has worked every job in the business from bartending and serving to managing and, of course, owning his own business. The now-expert chef first made a name for himself in Baton Rouge 20 years ago at Jumelles.
After firing a few chefs, Bergeron decided to do it himself and set out on his own, starting a catering business out of his house. Business grew, and by 2004 Bergeron opened his first brick and mortar establishment in Capital Heights, where he stayed for 12 years.
“It grew from a one-man operation to where I have about 20 plus employees now,” he said.
Demand necessitated the move into his newest location at Bergeron’s City Market on Jefferson Highway. The cafeteria-style restaurant allows patrons to dine in or carryout take and bake meals. After 15 years of catering, Bergeron said that side of the business is better than ever.
“It’s still growing all the time,” he said, “so catering is a lot of fun.”
Bergeron stays true to the lessons he learned as a child, like making everything from scratch. While other establishments have switched to readymade products to cut costs, Bergeron said his whipped creams, crème fresh, and preserves are still made fresh. Bergeron also offers seasonal favorites like fruitcake for the holidays and King Cakes for Mardi Gras, all made from scratch.
Tradition is what he says sets Louisiana cuisine apart from other foods. Many recipes, he said, have been around for hundreds of years. He carries on the culinary traditions he learned as child, like keeping it fresh.
Fresh ingredients are key in Bergeron’s kitchen. He even stocks his pantry from local farms like Fullness Farms in Baton Rouge. He enjoys teaching his young staff how things were done “way back when.”
For those just starting out in the kitchen, Bergeron advises mixing technique with fresh ingredients. Consistency and passion are also important.
He put it bluntly, “If you don’t have passion about it, find something else to do.”
Bergeron looks for the same when he dines out, freshness. He said he enjoys small mom and pop establishments, like Beausoleil. He said he doesn’t have a go-to dish, usually selecting whatever fresh seafood is on the menu.
Although not a bar hopper, Bergeron does enjoy the occasional happy hour and particularly Radio Bar. He says he prefers to entertain at home, and the best bar he knows is his house. Being a professional caterer makes it easy for him to host events like family get-togethers, sometimes with a little help from his staff.
“It’s kind of fun when you’re cooking something and it’s not for a catering job,” he said, “It makes it a little bit easier.”
When he’s not making his classic cuisine for family or customers, Bergeron takes a taste of Louisiana all over the world. Bergeron has cooked in about a dozen countries, including Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia.
Bergeron partnered with the Louisiana Office of Tourism to promote Louisiana cuisine. His food has been on tables in Mexico, Colombia, Germany, Switzerland, and even South Africa. He says people across the globe have heard about Louisiana’s famous Creole cuisine.
“A lot of times people think the Louisiana food is all hot and spicy,” he said, “but what I try to tell them, it’s more about flavor.”
Bergeron said Louisiana is a melting pot of its own thanks to the countries that settled in the Bayou State, bringing with them their culture and cuisine. Along with Bergeron’s own French ancestors, Italian, Spanish and German settlers also influenced many Creole dishes.
Food lovers around the world have praised Bergeron’s mastery of Louisiana cuisine, and it’s won him accolades back home as well, including American Culinary Federation’s Chef of the Year. He even provides food for a variety of local charity organizations.
Through all of his food endeavors, one thing remains clear: It doesn’t get more farm to table than Chef Don Bergeron.
More about Chef Don
What’s your favorite dish in town that isn’t your own?
Whatever fresh fish is on the menu
Your top cooking tip?
Technique and using fresh ingredients
Favorite local bar?
Favorite place to eat that isn’t your own place?