By William Norris
Photography by William Norris
Sebastien Bonneu’s life has taken him from his native Bordeaux to the Brazos River Basin; from delicate French pastry to pasture-raised poultry.
Today, Bonneu and wife Esther raise two varieties of chicken—the familiar Cornish Cross and the Naked Neck, which Bonneu likes for “its delicious rich flavor.” He also raises two varieties of duck—Muscovy, noted for its leanness, and the lesser-known Moulard, prized for its rich fat content and flavor, a trait that makes it particularly suited to the grill.
At Bonneu’s farm, chickens and ducks share space with geese, guinea hens, pheasants and rabbits. All of the animals are pasture-raised—coming and going from their pens as they please—and all are fed hormone- and antibiotic-free grain, a vital decision to Bonneu. “For the chicken,” he says, “the feed is extremely important.” The commercial poultry industry horrifies him, “It’s still legal in America to feed chicken to chicken,” he says, noting that big producers use feed that contains large quantities of “by-product”—the leftovers from previous slaughters.
Countryside Farms is a family farm. Sebastien and Esther often walk the acres together, shadowed closely by their two-year-old Margaux who chides in French to her puppy and pet pig to keep up. It’s a bucolic life, but not one without challenges. The Texas heat threatens the livestock, and the cost of feed continues to rise. There are natural predators to contend with—hawks, possums, raccoons and bobcats that, Bonneu notes, are bigger than Margaux. Feral hogs sometimes wreak havoc on the farm as well, but Bonneu makes use of the opportunity by butchering the young animals and selling the meat at the farmers market. “They’re like pork, but richer,” he says.
Bonneu’s meats can be purchased at Cissi’s Market, or sampled at a number of Austin restaurants, including Wink, Vespaio, Fino, Primizie, Asti, Jezebel and at many Dai Due suppers. But perhaps the best way to discover the flavor of Countryside Farms is to buy products directly from Bonneu himself. You can find him at the Austin Farmers’ Markets on Saturdays and Wednesdays, happily chatting with customers, shaking hands and offering advice on preparing unfamiliar cuts of meat.