Lessons learned in life with man’s best friend.
There’s a bit of an unofficial motto around here at the Butter Pat offices. Three simple words that sum up who we are as people, and as a company, and the kind we like to keep. It might say more about our ethos than any marketing team could make up. And we have a feeling, if you’re cooking on cast iron, you might abide by the maxim, too.
Must. Love. Dogs.
Now, let us start by saying, if you’re into cats, that’s okay, too, but boy, do we love our dogs. By now, especially if you follow us on the internet, you’ve likely seen our three-year-old American water spaniel, beloved bird dog, and unofficial mascot of Butter Pat Industries—Trix. She goes with us everywhere, from the foundry to the food festivals. She sleeps at our feet in the shop (and she’s taken over the bed at home). She gets the pan drippings for dinner if she’s been especially good. And sometimes just because.
Of course, as with most relationships, it hasn’t always been simple. Strong willed and hard headed, as is typical of her breed, she’s frustrated the hell out of us over the years, and we know for a fact we’ve pissed her off, too. Three years and thousands of training hours in, she’s still a work in progress, much like us.
And for everything we’ve taught her, she—observant, intuitive, clever—has gifted us a few of her own invaluable lessons, too. Like diligence, humility, and maybe most of all, patience. That special bond between dog and owner doesn’t just happen the moment they come home. It’s an ever-evolving process of getting to know each other. One that takes time—often years. You have to find out who the dog is. What they like, what they don’t. How they think and feel, which is a lot. How far to push them, and how far they can push you.
All of these nuances matter. After all, it’s a dog’s individuality, and their endless idiosyncrasies, that gives them their humanity, and that makes us choose them as our life partners. We see ourselves in their imperfection, in their striving to be better. Our job is to embrace all of it, and not give up.
Being who we are, we also can’t help but find parallels here between our pups and our cast irons. Like with dogs, you have to learn your pan’s limits. Its heat, its speed, its thin spots, its thicknesses, its warps and all—as well as your own. You have to try and fail and find small successes, like fried eggs, before the big ones, like buttery filets of fish. Because, like we touched on in our last story, where’s the fun in instant reward anyways? We welcome a little resistance, or in Trix’s case, rebellion.
These lines converge in our friend and famed chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Virginia. Before he lived within the beltway, this multi-generation Louisianan was born in Cajun country—coming up on a cuisine that usually begins with a seemingly simple recipe of flour, fat, and heat. Used to start such nominal dishes as gumbo, béchamel, and étouffée, “roux is a staple of Louisiana cooking,” says David. It also just so happens to be one of the most common dog names in the state, alongside the likes of Boudin and Beignet.
Under the tutelage of his larger-than-life Aunt Boo, David first learned to cook the stuff when he was 14 years old. “At that age, being told you have to sit there and stir something for an hour, you’re like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’,” he says with a laugh. Eventually Boo bought him his first cast iron and he slowly perfected his own roux recipe until it looked the way she taught him—like the color of the Bayou after heavy rain.
But slowly is the key word. There was a lot of trial and error, with lessons still learned today. “I always tell people to buy a five-pound bag of flour and a gallon of oil because it might take you a few tries,” he says. “You can’t even do the laundry. You have to commit fully.
And David has. His gumbo is now hunted down by hungry foodies and heralded by the likes of The Local Palate. Just last week, he toted 15 gallons of the good stuff, made with duck fat roux and smoked duck sausage, to the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Roux is the vanity plate on his Harley. And the name of his four-year-old yellow Lab.
“It’s about commitment and consistency—that’s what we strive for at the restaurant every day—and dog training is the same.”
“It’s about knowing your animal and its personality. It’s about not sending mixed messages. And commands coming from one individual who they share a special bond with. And like with the roux, you can’t get emotional or too far ahead of yourself. If you increase the heat because you want to speed things up, you’ll burn it. It’s about putting in the time. You can’t expect certain results if you don’t.”
Training his Roux, like training our Trix, hasn’t always been, well, duck soup. She, too, was destined for a waterfowl blind on the Chesapeake Bay—a landscape and way of life that in many ways parallels the Louisiana marsh where he and his Aunt Boo were raised. From the get-go, she loved the water, ready to work as soon as her vest came out and her collar went on. But four years in, she’s still far from perfect, even stumping a few of the fanciest trainers. Some days, defiance takes over. Other times, she’s a star.
“She’s taught me patience, that’s for sure,” says David. “Just like the roux.”
It took us a while to appreciate this, but there will probably never be a hunt when Trix flawlessly executes every retrieve. When she suddenly stops proudly gallivanting around the field after a good one instead of pointedly bringing back the bird to hand. When she decides to hang on our every command and hand signal from there on out. When she’s a perfect dog.
And that’s okay. We’re both far from perfect, and she’s taught us that.
After all, as a dog owner, all we can really hope for is that one day, if we’re lucky, we will come to an understanding. That neither of us is the boss. That we are extensions of each other. That we both have a lot to teach and learn. Just give it time.
But okay, okay, that being said, even patience does have its limits. And one thing we still can’t figure out for the life of us South Carolinians turned Marylanders is why you’d cook something so goddamn sensitive as roux in the mercurial medium of a cast iron.
It’s got to be more than virtue. It might just be pure insanity.
“The idea is slower and lower,” says David. “Cast iron holds heat and keeps it consistent.”
But really, he says, “I’ve just never been shown any other way.”
Sometimes, that’s good enough.