Denny Culbert

Sweet, refreshing, green-skinned and bright red watermelons show up at roadside farm stands by the truckload just in time to cool us throughout the steamier months of the year. We are lucky to be able to eat locally and eat well all year long here in southwest Louisiana, but the early summer is particularly special. The chance to pop a cherry tomato — picked perfectly ripe and still warm from the sun — right into your mouth, is a thrilling treat of the season. It’s also the time we gather in the evenings to fire up the grill and invite friends to join us in the backyard to share in the bounty of the land and sea.

Louisiana grown chef Collin Cormier of Pop’s Poboys prefers to showcase his Louisiana ingredients in fun and enticing flavors using Langlinais French bread as the vehicle that delivers his creativity straight into your mouth. Cormier’s first venture as chef-owner with his wife Jasmyne was the food truck called Viva la Waffle. The couple served waffle sandwiches to long lines of devoted fans. Viva went into retirement when they opened Pop’s in April of 2015 and Cormier’s fresh take on the classic poor boy caught on quickly with downtown Lafayette diners. Menu items like the “Boudreaux,” buttermilk fried catfish paired with a pickled okra tartar sauce and blue cheese slaw, the tribute to Vietnamese bánh mì called the “Banh Banh Shrimp,” and a rotating cast of weekly specials inspired by pop culture, the music playing in the kitchen or Saints football helped land Pop’s on the Bon Appétit list of best new restaurants in the country last year.

On most days alongside Cormier in the kitchen at Pop’s is chef Rob Sandberg. Sandberg is currently honing his wood fired cooking techniques in preparation for the opening of a new restaurant with Cormier that will center around the oven. The pair fired up a family style meal at the home of Sean and Michelle Ezell, the owners of Tsunami Sushi and Cormier’s first employers out of culinary school, to test a few potential menu items and create a remarkable week night dinner for friends and Saint Street neighbors. Red snapper was the star of the night, roasted in the oven and basted with butter to crispy perfection, presented to the table whole, and picked to the bones by guests moments later. Sipping on refreshing watermelon margaritas kept everyone cool and conversations flowing while Cormier and Sandberg, with the help of Sandberg’s brother, chopped, grilled and baked plate after plate for the table to share. Most dishes were simply prepared with the intention of highlighting a single ingredient like the smoky eggplant dip of baba ghanoush paired with the fire baked and charred-just-right pita bread. The Louisiana summer brings us everything we need for a feast shared with the right company, but it never hurts to have some of Lafayette’s finest cooks manning the grill.

To throw your own simple summer shindig, find your way to your local farmer's market and let the farmer guide you to the produce in the peak of ripeness. Cover your table with a mismatched set of plates, silverware and platters. Fire up the grill. Follow chef Cormier and Sandberg’s recipes for success. Don't forget to call your neighbors.

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT Jady Regard and Sean Ezell catch up over dinner in Ezell’s backyard. The table set for family style dining. Zucchini on the grill. The chef slices queso fresco to be mixed with the corn and zucchini.

Top Row: Watermelon margarita topped with cilantro. Chef Collin Cormier stretches the dough for pita bread. Red snapper fillets basted with butter by the chef. Middle Row: Gulf shrimp on the grill. Baba ghanoush (eggplant dip). Chef Cormier roasts a whole red snapper in the oven. Bottom Row: Chef Rob Sandberg stokes the fire. Pita bread to pair with the baba ganoush. Red snapper fillet with roasted vegetables and smoked sausage.


pork tenderloin with
roasted zucchini and corn

Grilling your vegetables adds a bit of smoky barbecue flavor (especially if you’re using wood coals) that will add depth to your dish. Keep them on the grill until they have a few good char marks before dicing and mixing with cubes of queso fresco.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT Chef Rob Sandberg explains his grilled shrimp dish to the guests. Red snapper with roasted vegetables and smoked sausage. Chef Sandberg tosses the fire roasted sausage and vegetables. Red snapper served whole for the table.

cilantro topped watermelon
margarita cocktails

Watermelons are easily whirred into juice with the help of a blender. When mixed with your booze of choice you’ll create a refreshing summer cocktail. Chef Cormier takes it a step further by adding a little lime juice, a chili and salted rim, plus cilantro for a riff on a classic margarita.

wood fire baked pita and
baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush is the simplest way to utilize an abundance of eggplant. Char the entire skin over fire or in hot coals, wrap with foil, and let it rest. Scoop out the creamy inside, mix with tahini, grated garlic, lemon and salt. Finally drizzle with good olive oil and pair it with pita bread or anything else you want to dip in it or spread it on.

TOP ROW Saint Street neighbors sit together for dinner. Roasted radishes with lardon. Chef Rob Sandberg seasoning the radishes. MIDDLE ROW Olivia Regard takes in the last bit of daylight after dinner. Guests pass the grilled shrimp with green tomato chow chow. BOTTOM ROW Chefs and brothers Rob Sandberg and Ruebin Sandberg plate the red snapper dish. Grilled shrimp with green tomato chow chow.

fresh watermelon margarita

Mix 4 ounces silver tequila, 6 ounces fresh watermelon juice (puree watermelon in blender and pour through fine meshed strainer), ½ ounce Grand Marnier, ¼ ounce fresh lemon juice and ¼ ounce fresh lime juice and pour over crushed ice in glass rimmed with sweet chili spice (see recipe at right).

sweet and spicy watermelon

For sweet chili spice combine 4 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons chili powder, 2 tablespoons ancho powder and ½ teaspoon salt. Juice  lemon on sliced watermelon and sprinkle with spice mixture.

whole roasted snapper

Begin preheating large cast iron skillet at highest oven setting. Score the flesh of both sides of a 4-6 pound snapper gutted and scaled. Cut 1 lime, 1 whole yellow onion and 2 whole jalapeños into thin slices and stuff into the slits and cavity. Pour ½ cup vegetable oil over fish and rub over entire surface. Rub ½ cup of your favorite all purpose seasoning mix (tenderloin spice mix works well here as well) on fish, making sure to get it into the slits and into the cavity. Pour small amount of vegetable oil into hot pan and place fish in pan; return to oven. Cook until flesh is fork tender. Finish with ½ stick of butter and 1 cup of dry white wine. Baste fish by pouring pan juices over fish right before serving.

roasted radishes with dill yogurt

Cook 4 ounces thick, diced bacon until golden brown. Add 1 pound radishes (quartered), ½ sliced onion, ½ sliced onion, 1 tablespoon chopped garlic and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat until radishes are slightly tender.
Add 1 cup greek yogurt, ½ lemon, juiced, 1 teaspoon fine chopped garlic, ¼ cup chopped dill, 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste in bowl and mix until combined.
Toss radishes with chopped dill and top
with dill yogurt.

summer peas

Brown 1 cup sliced smoked sausage in cast iron skillet. Add 1 cup fresh purple hull peas, 1 cup sweet peas, 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic and ½ onion, sliced. Season with 1 pinch red pepper flakes, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Finish with ½ lemon, juiced, and 2 ounces butter.

grilled pork tenderloin
with corn & squash salad

Tenderloin: Wash 1 pork tenderloin and pat dry. In a small bowl, combine ²⁄³ cup salt, ½ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup curry powder, ¼ cup chili powder, ¼ cup paprika, 2 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon cumin and ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper. Rub pork loin with spices and marinate for an hour or more. Grill tenderloin to desired temperature, let rest.
Grilled Corn and Squash: Grill and dice 1 zucchini and 1 yellow squash. Grill and clean 2 ears of sweet corn. Heat oven to 425 F. Combine 8 ounces cubed queso fresco, ¼ cup mexican cream, ¼ teaspoon cumin, 1 lemon (juiced) and ¼ cup chopped cilantro and place in cast iron skillet. Slightly brown in oven.
Cumin Crema: Add 1 cup mexican cream, ¼ teaspoon cumin powder, ½ lemon, juiced and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste to a bowl and mix until well combined.
To Plate: Slice pork tenderloin and place on top of corn and squash. Top dish with cumin crema. Serve.

pita bread

Preheat oven to 500 F.
Bloom 1 teaspoon yeast in 2¼ cups of warm water. Combine 6 cups all-purpose flour, 2½ teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons sugar in large bowl. Slowly add water and yeast. Knead for 10 minutes.
Place ball of dough in bowl with 3 teaspoons olive oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough double in size.
Portion dough into preferred sizes and let rise until doubled in size again.
Roll out dough on lightly floured table and cook in hot oven until slightly browned on each side.

baba ghanoush

Roast 1 eggplant in oven whole at 350˚ F until tender when pierced with a fork. Peel eggplant and mash.
Combine eggplant with ¼ cup tahini, ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ teaspoon paprika, 3 cloves garlic chopped, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 lemon juiced and serve.


grilled shrimp & pickled green
tomato chow chow

Shrimp: Season 12 shrimp with salt and pepper. Char shrimp on a super hot pit until opaque and peel.
Horseradish Sauce: Combine 1 cup mayo, ½ cup horseradish, 1 teaspoon black pepper and 1 lemon juiced in a small bowl.
Pickled Green Tomato Chow Chow: Combine 1 cup pickled green tomatoes (chopped), ¼ cup pickled jalapeños (chopped), ¼ cup diced onion, ¹⁄³ cup chili garlic sauce, 2 tablespoon yellow mustard, ¼ cup pickled mustard seeds, 1½ teaspoons Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce, 1½ teaspoons cane vinegar and 1 tsp chopped garlic until evenly mixed.
To Plate: Spread horseradish sauce on plate, cover with grilled shrimp. Top dish with green tomato chowchow.