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R.I.P. Chef Paul Prudhomme

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R.I.P. indeed. Prudhomme was a really important figure for me in the early stages of cooking and eating food beyond bland Yankee fare. My first and only trip to K-Paul's in 1986 was revelatory and started my interest in restaurants. Here's a story I wrote in the weeks following Katrina but never tried to publish because I couldn't get the tone right.


 


* * * * *


 


My first trip to NOLA was in the mid-80s, when I was finishing college and attending a conference. During my junior year and the subsequent year off, I had smoked through Paul Prudhomme's first cookbook, Louisiana Kitchen, several times, and naturally decided that I should make my way down to the restaurant and have dinner: my very first food-focused restaurant excursion.


I grabbed a few people with me who had endured my attempts at "blackened redfish" back home, and we arrived at the restaurant as it opened -- along with several dozen other tourists. But, hardly a grumbling lot of irritable Yankees, this queue was filled with truly joyous people. Yeah, we knew we were tourists and K-Pauls was reputed to be more a national than a local phenomenon. But long before our family members had started calling us "foodies" with rolling eyes and NOLA celebrity chefs were using "Bam!" to sell product, we had finally arrived at this little temple to Cajun goodness eager for a powerful fine meal.


And, shee-it, we were in New Orleans, friend, not blue law Boston. One person in line realized that we could get beers in plastic cups from a bar down the street to drink while we waited, and everyone just started bringing back trays of brew and handing them out down the line. When it was my turn, I walked down a bit further to a raw bar and ordered a pile of oysters and shrimp -- for some insanely small amount of money, a buck a dozen or so -- to bring back as well. I had not before and have not since enjoyed such a festive occasion with a group of complete strangers.


When we finally were seated, we were treated to a fantastic meal. I had my first good bread basket in life at K-Paul's (the jalapeno cheese bread was remarkable, in particular), and, avoiding all things blackened, I consumed my and my companions' dishes -- a gumbo for sure, some jambalaya, who knows what else -- with a beer- and cayenne-fueled fervor. After the dinner plates were cleared and before my pecan pie came out, I went out the back of the house, though a long corridor exposed to the outdoors, passing the kitchen to my left, to the bathroom.


On my way back, the dark, overcast evening skies finally burst open. I had seen a Louisiana rain storm a couple of days before, as I drove the 24-hours straight through from Providence to NOLA, crossing I-10 over Lake Pontchartrain, and it was no New England spring shower. I had pulled over because, after a few quarter-cup droplets thudded on the car, I suddenly stopped being able to see anything out the windshields or windows. While this night's shower wasn't nearly as voluminous, thunder and lightning were booming and snapping all around the restaurant, animating the sky just beyond my extended fingertips.


I paused, briefly, at the kitchen doorway, and, emboldened by pleasure, asked if I could watch for a while. "Sure, but there's nothing much to see," said one of the many line cooks standing behind the massive ranges that shot blistering flames around the skillets and into the air. I watched as these focused pros tossed food and caught it, plated fillets and chops and who knows what all, and never missed a beat. There was just so much to see; here were people juggling three, four, six dishes at a time, while I struggled at home with a single cast-iron beast and burning roux. I was rapt as, suddenly, with a transformer-busting crack, the kitchen and the surrounding restaurant went black.


And this is the image of New Orleans that has stayed with me these two decades, that I have recalled so often over the last few, harrowing days: in a darkened kitchen lit only by the explosive gas flames licking pans and pots, amid a downpour drumming on the roof and incessant chatter, barking, and laughter, I watched the K-Paul's kitchen soldier on, with a greater sense of energy, confidence, and purpose than I could fathom, utterly devoted not merely to the patrons out front but to the foolhardy insistence that they sure as hell were not going to let Mother Nature show them who's boss.


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Thanks for sharing that, Chris.  You may not have thought the tone was quite right, but I find it evocative of a scene I've never seen and now wish I could.

 

Bless Paul for bringing Louisiana's cuisine to the rest of us.

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That's too bad. I had to opportunity to meet him in the mid-90's. Very gracious man. Even though my kid was acting up terribly. 

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That is very sad.  I have never eaten at his restaurants but do have a few of his cookbooks and food seems to be very festive and exciting.  Will cook something this weekend.  Blackened perhaps ;).

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Wrote some great cookbooks. Was almost responsible for the extermination of redfish. Great cook.

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So sad to hear this …he was one of a kind Chef Purdhomme and I have a personal deep feeling of  gratitude for him as a man …always …

 

when my son graduated from college/culinary school he was given a trip to New Orleans and  Santa Fe to spend time in two famous  kitchens …

(we were so fortunate these were "friend of a friend" hook ups and they were both so successful in getting a young chef stoked and ready to enter the world )

 

The time and energy given to my son in New Orleans was just so amazing i thought for a while he would go back ..not just from Chef but from the entire kitchen staff they took my son under their wings and just took amazing care of him .. had a wonderful time and left with a suitcase full of signed books and spices ..I mean spices he had so many bottles and bags of blends it was amazing.  The generosity and spirit of that kitchen and his 2 day stint there were a game changer for him.  He was tentative about if he wanted to pursue cooking or business end of the food world and this was what helped him find his place in the world …He kept in touch with Chef and folks in the kitchens for the longest time. 

 

so sad to hear of his passing and so grateful my son was able to meet him and spend time  ..what a turning point in his life this was! 

 

RIP dear Paul Prudhomme! and thank you 

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The last time I saw him it was on a cooking show many years ago, even then he was hugely overweight and looked unwell.

I'm surprised that he was just 75 when he died, I would have guessed much older by the way he appeared.

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We are having a wake over at a friends' place who got us interested in Paul's cuisine.  They have a copy of his menu framed just outside their kitchen!  We will all cook together and rejoice in his work.

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My favorite memory of him is not of his cookbooks or his TV appearances. It is of him sitting on his scooter at the Winter Fancy Foods Show in SF cooking up samples for the attendees. He was a class act.

 

RIP

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We went to K Paul's in 1985.  It was a revelation.  We bought his cookbook (I still have it after 30 years of moves).  

 

We were nuts for his Crawfish Pie and Tchoupitoulas Chicken.  I still make both of these recipes at least once a year.   I make a big batch of his spice mixture once a month and use it almost daily, often as the rub on whatever hits the grill that day.  

 

He is a chef that will never be forgotten.  

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We went to K Paul's in 1985.  It was a revelation.  We bought his cookbook (I still have it after 30 years of moves).  

 

We were nuts for his Crawfish Pie and Tchoupitoulas Chicken.  I still make both of these recipes at least once a year.   I make a big batch of his spice mixture once a month and use it almost daily, often as the rub on whatever hits the grill that day.  

 

He is a chef that will never be forgotten.  

 

I, too, still make use of his Louisana Kitchen cookbook, especially for gumbo.

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Thanks for the link. From the article:

 

 

Asked by The Toronto Star in 2000 to name his favorite dish, he did not hesitate. “From the time I was a child, it’s fresh pork roast with holes punched into it and filled with herbs, spices, pork lard, onions, peppers and celery and cooked in a cast-iron roasting pan in a wood-burning oven all night,” he said. “I’d serve that dish with candied yams, dirty rice and warm potato salad.”

 

Perhaps that could be the menu for the wake.

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