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.

My New Favorite New Orleans Book: Lost Restaurants of New Orleans

Lost Restaurants of New OrleansLost Restaurants of New Orleans by Peggy Laborde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I lived and worked in New Orleans for over fourteen years, most of which was spent dining on the South Shore in Orleans, Jefferson parishes, and on the North Shore in St. Tammany Parish. From the lofty white linen table cloths of fine French Quarter restaurants, to the food tents of JazzFest, I ate, savored, and enjoyed my gastronomic sojourn there.

My mother, Peggy Meredith Brady, had left home after college and lived in the French Quarter, working in business, and studying painting with Leonard Flettrich. She shared an apartment with a friend in the Quarter, in a time when it was more of a residential and mixed business little town, before t-shirt shops and sleazy bars changed its mojo. Her memories of great New Orleans food were repeated to me over and over while I was growing up, and I couldn’t help but fall in love with such a magical and mysterious place.

Some of my earliest memories of New Orleans are about eating. One especially comes to mind about oysters. Mom’s not here to ask, but we might have been sitting at the oyster bar at The Pearl or Acme Oyster House. Maybe. I was barely six and watched my mother and twelve-year-old sister downing raw oysters faster than the oyster shucker could shuck. I was having none of it, especially when his concentration lagged, and he nearly sliced a thumb off.

When life took me from LSU in Baton Rouge to New Orleans in 1981, following a fiance’ and his career, my love affair with New Orleans cuisine took a deeper and more profound turn. A chance contract employment with Chevron USA meant working in the Central Business District, and dining in some of the top restaurants of NOLA.

Reading Lost Restaurants of New Orleans is an emotional business for me. Some of these beauties were part of my history, and losing them meant losing a connection. My mother passed away over ten years ago, but I wish it were possible to share this beautiful book with her. Hear new stories about her wild days as a young party girl in a more innocent era. More stories about how she loved Tujague’s, reading palms for beers when broke. More memories of dining out in these lost restaurants.

There’s a lost world remembered and treasured within the bindings of this book by Peggy Scott Laborde and Tom Fitzmorris, two of my most trusted NOLA food and culture sources. Whether you’d like a reminder of favorite restaurants lost to time or a reference guide to New Orleans cuisine through time, Lost Restaurants of New Orleans is a fabulous find. There are classic recipes shared, vintage photography of the exteriors and interiors, copies of menus, and much more. A treasure trove.

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