P is for Prudhomme
Last week, New Orleans lost one of her favorite native sons. He kept us fed, preached the holy trinity far and wide, and helped to create the idea of New Orleans as a place to visit simply to eat and eat well. Paul Prudhomme will forever be remembered for his magic spices, white pageboy hat, and unflagging loyalty to cajun and creole cuisine.
Born in Opelousas in 1940, Prudhomme was the son of a farmer who later went on to become the first American born Executive Chef of Commander's Palace, turning the restaurant from a garden district mausoleum into the international destination it is today. After leaving Commanders to open K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen with his wife Kay, his reputation as a chef, and those of his signature dishes like blackened redfish continue to grow beyond the confines of the city. In 1980, he was even knighted by the French Ordre National du Mérite Agricole in honor of his work with Cajun and Creole cuisines. Prudhomme's popularity, reaching ever farther through the publication of his cookbook: Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, was such that in the late 1980's the commercial fishing of redfish became restricted in order to prevent the species from going extinct.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Prudhomme was forced to close K-Paul's. During the restoration efforts, he cooked for free at a relief center for the military and residents staying in the French Quarter; at one point cooking over 6,000 meals in ten days. K-Paul's re-opened in October 2006 and continues to be massively popular among tourists and locals alike.
Prudhomme was one of the world's first celebrity chefs, making a career not just an a cook, but as an entrepreneur of his personal brand. A man known as much for his own character as that of his food. Prudhomme was a true manifestation of his native culture: larger than life, joyful, and eternally generous.
"A book could be written about his influence on the New Orleans, Louisiana, American and world cuisines. In his prime in the early 1980s, there was no chef whose fame exceeded his. Nor was there ever a time when, in his reflected starshine, Cajun and Creole food was held in greater regard. To dine at his restaurant K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen required a long wait in a line that went to the end of the block and turned left. Thirty years after its publication, his first cookbook Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen remains among the best-selling cookbooks in the world-to say nothing of the many great books he wrote afterwards. His Creole-Cajun seasonings are among the best-selling in the business, and set the standard for many of them.
But for all that, Chef Paul's greatest achievement was in changing the way American people-especially young adults-looked upon the restaurant industry. Chef Paul changed the image of a cook from just a a job into a career. Of course, he himself was the best illustration of the possibilities. He grew up in a large, poor Cajun family and turned himself into a world-class chef."-Tom Fitzmorris