Kurt + Karen Unkel

Kurt Unkel | Cajun Grain | Artisan

By focusing on the soil on the Louisiana farm, Kurt + Karen have nurtured a healthier and more flavorful grain.  By keeping the entire production process "in-farm", Cajun Grain is able to ensure the delivery of the freshest product possible, all the while remaining gluten-free.    

Keep reading to learn about Kurt + Karen's passion for farming, including their favorite recipe to make with their Cracked Brown Rice.

What Inspired You To Start Your Company?  

We had a history of rice farming, but decided we could do better when it comes to growing food and protecting the land, and market our rice directly to the consumer.

 

Tell us about your products. 

We grow Brown Jasmine Rice, under organic conditions, but not certified organic.  From the rice, we also make our unique Cracked Rice, which is similar to grits.  And last, but not least, we also stone-grind our rice into flour.

 

What Does Being A Small-Batch “Craftsman” Mean To You? 

It means that we can be sure that our rice products are freshly milled to order.

 

What is your favorite small-batch treat? 

We personally love making the Cracked Rice, both as a sweet breakfast with dark cocoa, nuts and maple syrup.  Or, we eat it as a savory dish, with added Parmesan and garlic oil.

 

What Drew You To Food? 

We literally spent decades growing rice as just a “commodity”.  Once we realized the impact of the farm health on food health, we changed our farming to growing food.

 

Where Does Your Food Inspiration Come From? 

The different ways we use our rice comes from the need for gluten free ingredients.  I (Karen) had to begin the gluten free journey three years ago, and I couldn’t find ingredients that met my expectations.  That’s when I decided we could make the Cracked Rice and flour.

 

What Products Are You Working On Now? 

Right now we are making boudin with our rice (we have a commercial kitchen).  For those not familiar with what boudin is, it is a Cajun “sausage”,  usually made out of white rice and ground pork liver.  We dress up ours a bit, by using our brown rice, no liver, real meat, vegetables and lots of unique flavor!

 

Do You Have a Favorite Product? 

Can you have a favorite child?? No.  Each of our products really lends itself to its own special area.

 

Latest Ingredient Obsession? 

Crawfish!  I mean, we are from Louisiana!  We use crawfish in our unique tamales, with the full Cajun flavor.

 

What Did You Have For Dinner Last Night?

Chicken Curry, Corn Casserole, Pea Salad  and finished with Papaya and Strawberries.

 

What Person, Living Or Dead, Would You Most Like To Have Try Your Product? 

Kurt would love to share a meal with featuring one of our rice products with Malcolm Beck.  He lives in San Antonio, TX, and is considered one of the early great natural farmers who realized the importance of soil health.  Ever since we made the change to improving our soil health, the natural order on our farm just fell into place.

 

What’s The Best Piece Of Advice You’ve Gotten In Building Your Business? What Advice Would You Give Other craftsmen? 

The advice we were given was to just get the stories from the people doing it, the ones “in the trenches”.  They know firsthand what works and what doesn’t.  I would repeat this advice for others as well, along with adding to just go for it.

 

What Other Local Food Craftsmen or Chefs Do You Admire? 

Locally, Chef Donald Link in New Orleans came to visit our farm years ago.  He has since carried our products in a couple of his restaurants, Peche and Herbsaint.  Along with him, we have a dozen or so local, smaller chefs who stick with our product in southern Louisiana.

 

If You Had To Choose Your Last Meal, What Would It Be? 

Wherever I physically was, it would be whatever the local fare is.  We love tasting new dishes!

 

Favorite Restaurant or Food Experience? 

I’ll cheat here and say ours!  The little café/commercial kitchen owned and run by us cooks up unique twists on Cajun dishes, along with mainstream comfort food,  such as Shrimp & Grits (but on Cracked Rice instead).

 

What Do You Enjoy Doing Outside of the Kitchen? 

We are really getting into growing some vegetables to incorporated into the fresh foods we prepare.

 

What’s Your Favorite Kitchen Soundtrack? 

60s and 70s anything.

 

What is your favorite recipe to make with the your Jasmine Cracked Rice, featured in our April basket?

Cheesy Cracked Rice

Ingredients

1 c. Cracked Rice

2 c. milk

2 c. water

1 tsp. salt

¾ c. Parmesan Cheese

2 cloves garlic, diced

1/3 c. olive oil

 

Directions

Place the Cracked Rice, milk, water and salt in slow cooker on HIGH.  Cook for 2 hours.  At the 1 hour point, begin stirring the mixture well, and again every 20 minutes.  

When the mixture above is beginning to cook, heat the olive oil on medium until just getting hot.  Remove from heat and add garlic, stirring it around.  It should cool well while the Cracked Rice is cooking.

At 2 hours, turn off slow cooker.  Add cheese to mixture and place lid back on.  Let sit for about 5 minutes to “melt” the cheese.

When ready to heat, place Cracked Rice in bowl and drizzle with garlic oil.

 

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