Paul Prudhomme, the chef who put Cajun cuisine on the map, died last week at the age of 75.
The larger-than-life chef known as much for his trademark caps as his seasonings was never formally trained as a chef, learning how to cook from watching his mother. The youngest of 13 children, as a young man, Prudhomme started traveling in his early 20s on a quest to discover America's vast culinary treasures. The chef opened K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in July 1979 in the middle of New Orleans' French Quarter. Prudhomme also created a line of all-natural herbs and seasonings, which are distributed throughout the U.A. and in more than 30 countries around the world.
The Cajun chef also wrote nine best-selling cookbooks and produced six cooking videos and several cooking series for television. Prudhomme received numerous awards for his culinary skills and service, including Restaurateur of the Year from the Louisiana State Restaurant Association and Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Legend award, and was the first American-born chef to receive the Mérite Agricole of the French Republic.
Prudhomme's influence is strong in today's culinary community, with many Miami chefs taking to social media to note their condolences. Venerable Miami legend Norman Van Aken posted the following to his Facebook page:
R.I.P. Chef Paul Prudhomme. I was so affected by his work I must post to give him tribute today. His first cookbook landed in our restaurant in 1986 like a bombshell of greatness! We cooked out of it, ate it, revered it. I cooked a turtle that I...ended the life of... I cooked Turtle Soup following the scripture of Chef Paul. It was amazing! 20 years passed. And In Madrid in 2006 I was waiting off stage with my dear friend Charlie Trotter while Ferran Adrià presented to the audience. Then began the "Official Inauguration by the Sr. D. Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, the Mayor of Madrid".
It was The Tribute at the IV International Summit of Gastronomy to the "Founders of the New American Cuisine": Alice Waters, Norman Van Aken, Paul Prudhomme and Mark Miller and to the American media that have contributed to spread the renewal movement of the current American Gastronomy: Johnny Apple, Ariane & Michael Batterberry, Judith Jones, Robert Parker and Marvin R. Shanken.
Spending time with Chef Paul Prudhomme there was a memory I will cherish as I will his teaching on Cajun and Creole cooking. God Bless Chef Prudhomme and his Family and The Brennan Family for having the wisdom to share Paul with the World first at Commander's Palace in his beloved New Orleans. I spoke with Emeril today and we toasted over the phone. Its just gotten a lot more Cajun magical in Heaven.
Kris Wessel, who grew up in New Orleans, was equally reverent.
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The first time I ever sent back a meal twice was at chef Paul Prudhomme's K-Paul's restaurant in New Orleans. It was during my first trip to the Big Easy, and the iconic chef's restaurant was brimming with energy. A jazz band was stationed outside the doors, as dozens of tourists flocked to pay tribute to the man who introduced Cajun cuisine to the masses.
The blackened drum, a local Lousiana fish, was mealy and looked like it had been sitting out all day. I was disheartened, but my husband's crawfish etouffée made up for it, and we wound up sharing the entree before making short work of a piece of bread pudding.
Of course, chef Prudhomme wasn't in the kitchen of the restaurant he founded in 1979 that evening. Nor did I realize that insiders leave dinner at the iconic restaurant for visitors, opting for the restaurant's deli-style lunch, served Thursday - Saturday only, where locals slurp up po-boys and gumbos. I returned to the restaurant one humid, lazy Friday afternoon for a shrimp po boy. This time, the spirit of Prudhomme's cooking came out in the crispy breading, the fresh seafood, and the touch of Cajun spices. I only wish I had gotten to eat a meal created by the man, himself.