A Tradition of Quality: An Interview with Countryside Farm's Sebastien Bonneu

t's quite possible that Sebastien Bonneu has a recipe for duck pate encoded in his DNA. A French expat from Bordeaux, he brings a Frenchman's understanding of animal husbandry, quality, and all things goose fat to Central Texas. Sebastien's farming methods are old-fashioned and revolve around what's right for the animals and the land. The flavors in his charcuterie products are lusty and earthy--a reminder that tradition and a commitment to quality can produce some of the best food in the world. Lucky SFC Farmers' Market shoppers have been enjoying his farm-raised meats for years, and now clamor for farm raised and prepared rillettes, pate, sausages, cured meats, and entrees. Read on for a deeper understanding of what happens at Countryside Farm and the philosophy behind what Sebastien and his wife Esther do.

Tell us a little about the journey that led you to Countryside Farm.

I was born and raised in the countryside near Bordeaux, France, and was lucky enough to be brought up by, not one, but two French chefs on a sustainable farm. It’s no surprise that I grew up to became a lover of great food as well as a chef. After going to culinary school and finding success in the pastry world, I “jumped across the pond” and landed in McAllen, TX. There I met Esther Alvarez-Hill, who is now my wife. She grew up on a farm in Mexico before moving to McAllen, when she was eight years old. Both of us learned from a young age a fierce love for agriculture, plants and animals. Our shared love for high quality gourmet food brought us to Austin, Texas.

Even though I was working in fine dining restaurants throughout the city, I noticed a deficiency in the quality and consistency of meat products passing through kitchens. I wanted more and better. So, I turned to Esther and told her, “If you want something done right and you’re stubborn enough, you do it yourself.”

Right then and there, we decided to go back to our roots and start our own farm in order to produce the meats that were up to our standards. Founded in 2007, our farm believes in traditional practices that produce full-flavored meats, utilizing each animal to its fullest, from nose to tail. We are extremely happy with how homegrown animals really are the best.

A wonderful addition to our family were our two beautiful children--Margaux (7 years old) and Benjamin (4 years old). They were the truffle on our foie gras!

On the farm we started with chicken, then duck and guinea hens, expanding to geese, then rabbit; finally with our first pig, we felt complete. That pig was turned into a whole lot of bacon. That bacon turned into COUNTRYSIDE FARM. We then naturally progressed from just raising and butchering high quality meats to processing them further using traditional natural methods to produce a high-quality gourmet charcuterie line.

Why raise food?

In short form: Because we want it done right.

How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to raise food for a living?

Being a connoisseur of great food was instilled at a young age while being raised on a farm by two French chefs for parents. Because of this unique upbringing, it’s no surprise that I chose to walk this road as well. A life in kitchens and farms certainly was great experience for what the future held. Raising food for a living is what I’ve always known.

What does “sustainable” mean to you?

Sustainability is a form of independence, in which one is conscious of growth, energy and natural resource use, and where development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

What does a “day in the life” look like at Countryside Farm?

Our days change often, BUT we’re typically up around 7 a.m., and we start where we should: with the animals! Feeding and watering can be time consuming, but we multi-task during this time to check in on all the different animals sprawling our seven acres, and collecting for eggs or harvest. When lunchtime rolls in, we all take a break and gather round to feast and converse over a homemade meal. Back to work, the afternoon could either be an on-site harvest day for some tasty poultry, or a kitchen day consisting of whipping up items for our savory charcuterie line. When our day starts to wind down, we repeat the feeding and watering of the whole farm. Repeat to eat!

What is special or different about the food you raise?

On our farm we raise happy animals—happy animals that spend the majority of their lives outside wandering and foraging in our pastures and woods at their own leisure. All of our meats are raised in an herbicide, pesticide, and chemical fertilizer free environment, with their natural diets supplemented with a locally milled custom grain mixture that is free of growth hormones. We process all of our poultry on-site in our state licensed facility and our large animals at a local custom abattoir. We pride ourselves on utilizing animals from nose to tail, the old-fashioned way.

What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?

Depends on who you ask around the farm! It’s one big farm family and whatever needs to be done, gets done. Simple as that.

What do you find most rewarding about farming?

That moment when a customer tries something new; the following moments when the flavors wash over them; the happiness that we feel from others.

What do you find most challenging?

The hours! Never-ending.

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to raise food sustainably for a living?

Cost. Land, labor, transportation, always-growing heat and water bills, ever-changing laws, zoning, and permits.

What is a farmer’s role in our society?

When it comes down to basics, we’re here to feed and educate people.

Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?

Lots of reasons! Local foods are fresher, seasonal, and taste better. Local foods promote food safety and usually have less environmental impact. Growing locally preserves green space and farmland, and enhances variety. Local foods also support your local economy and help create community too.

What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?

Passing of the Cottage Food laws.

What do you wish more people knew about growing food?

That everyone can do it! Whether you’re starting with a few herbs, a couple tomato plants, a full-size garden, or more, with a little effort, anyone can grow local, healthy, flavorful food. It’s not rocket science, it’s natural!

What inspires you?

Good food. High-quality food products.

What is one thing everyone can do to create a better, stronger food system?

Support their local farmers. Make your farmers your friends.

What are you cooking this week?

For our charcuterie line, this week we’re whipping up a fresh batch of oh-so-smooth wild hog & chicken liver mousse, the crowd pleasing favorite of duck & leek terrine, and decadent duck blood sausage. As for the butcher block, we’re harvesting Muscovy Duck, Naked Neck Chicken, and California Rabbit. Yum.

What’s your favorite farm-raised recipe or dish?

Roasted rabbit with mustard glazed cabbage.

Quick Picks

Favorite breakfast: Duck egg omelettes or crepes

Favorite comfort food: Ratatouille

Favorite book about food: Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations

Favorite cookbook: Bocuse’s Regional French Cooking

Favorite in-season fruit/veggie: Fennel

Favorite food indulgence: Duck fat, Goose fat, Pork fat, any fat.