Paul Prudhomme, My Hero

The news from New Orleans has broken my heart: Paul Prudhomme has died at age 75.

Back when there was still a DH Holmes Department Store on Canal Street, and I was gainfully employed in the CBD, I used to see Paul Prudhomme from time to time around the French Quarter environs. Coworkers and I used to eat upstairs in a small cafe he ran for a while above the main restaurant. Sometimes you’d go in and the Chef himself would be sitting behind the counter keeping an eye on things, perched on a tiny stool, intelligent eyes missing nothing.

A pilgrimage down into the French Quarter done in almost double-time yielded an oyster loaf from his kitchen that would make you want to weep for joy. My mouth waters at just the suggestion.

One lunch time I was scooting through the back door of DH Holmes into the Quarter, probably heading for the one time sewing and needlework store they had on the street behind. In the double backdoor came the Chef, and I stood aside to let him in. At that time he was that large. He gave me a smile and kept going.

Paul Prudhomme put Cajun food on the culinary map, defined it, made it an international sensation, inspired thousands if not millions of people to eat or cook it. Or both. Made “blackened” Redfish an internationally known dish. Heck, for all practical purposes he invented “blackened” anything.

His spice line is carried all over the United States, and are excellent.

I still have an early edition of his first cookbook, stained from making red beans and rice for the first time. My efforts were just a smidgen shy of inedible, but Chef inspired me to keep on trying.

Wherever you eat Cajun food today, whether it’s a weird adaptation or the real thing, you can raise your eyes towards Heaven and thank Paul Prudhomme.

Rest in Peace, Chef. No one will ever fill your shoes.


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