FAMED NEW ORLEANS CHEF WAS NOT ONLY A LEGEND, BUT A PERSONAL
by Dwight Casimere
PAUL PRUDHOMME, CHEF WHO PUT CAJUN COOKING ON NATIONAL STAGE, DIES AT 75...The New York Times, October 8, 2015
The headline in the New York Times sent waves of regret over me in the early morning hours, as I recalled my first encounter with legendary Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, who died on Thursday at the age of 75 in New Orleans after a brief illness.
I first met the great chef in 1980, when he opened a 'pop-up' restaurant on San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, prior to opening a brick and mortar establishment. Prudhomme had a reputation for setting up shop in the most unexpected places, both in the US and around the world. His French Quarter restaurant, K Paul's had already captured the culinary world's imagination and he was quickly on his way to becoming a household name.
I was introduced to Prudhomme because I was embarking on a culinary career of my own, auditing courses at the San Francisco Culinary Academy and creating a pilot for a proposed cable TV show, Celebrity Gourmet. Prudhomme welcomed me into his makeshift field kitchen, set up in a tent along the docks near Pier 35. He showed me how to prepare a dish I had never had before, a variation of Jambalaya, featuring Rabbit instead of the traditional shrimp or crawfish, and poured over pasta instead of rice. He allowed me to sample a few of his other specialties, including Shrimp Etouffee and, of course, Gumbo.
I confided to Chef Prudhomme, that although I had eaten many Cajun and Creole specialties as a child. They were prepared by my grandmother, who was born in New Orleans, and who raised me.
I joked with him that, although I had eaten many of her preparations, I really didn't know the names of them and, as a young child, didn't have the nerve to ask. Prudhomme joked that "when Granmaw cooks, you don't ask questions. You just eat!" His hearty laugh and considerable girth at the time cemented his image in my mind as the jocular down-home chef, who was all about serious business in the kitchen, even in less-than-perfect conditions.
The last time I saw Prudhomme was in New Orleans at the J.W. Marriott Hotel on Canal Street during the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience in 2011, when he was the recipient of the Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality. He was in a wheelchair, but rose to the occassion and walked unassisted onstage in the Ile de France Grand Ballroom to accept the award. As always, he was the same jocular person I had met years before and recalled our encounter in San Francisco with the same great sense of humor.
Paul Prudhomme was not only a great chef, he was an outstanding individual who championed a humble cuisine and elevated it to the heights.