Chef Paul Prudhomme
A Lifetime of Sharing the Bounty and Traditions of Louisiana Cooking
Chef Paul Prudhomme
Some people spend a lifetime trying to find their passion. Chef Paul Prudhomme was born with it.
In these modern times in America, there is an abundance of talented chefs on the culinary landscape, but there was a time when French chefs were most revered here, leaving only a handful of noted American chefs. Chef Paul Prudhomme is one of those pioneers of American culinary history. Because of his extensive body of work, he was able to reach a global audience and educate them about the Creole and Cajun culinary culture of Louisiana. Chef Paul has shown us, by his example, the true spirit of America as he worked hard his entire life to learn all aspects of his business. He was an innovator and creator, and gathered a network of associates who shared his vision and helped him to advance his interests through the years. His philanthropic work is admirable, as he believes in "giving back." Chef Paul's story teaches us an important lesson about the rewards of a lifetime of hard work.
At the age of seven, in 1947, Paul Prudhomme's mother began to teach him the tradition of Louisiana cooking from their Acardiana farm near Opelousas, a community located 90 miles from New Orleans. Opelousas is one of Louisiana's oldest towns where local cuisine includes jambalaya, gumbo and crawfish. Paul is the youngest of 13 children. He learned the value of using fresh, quality products from his mother. "We didn't have electricity, which meant no refrigeration, so we used only what was fresh and in season. I learned to appreciate herbs and vegetables right from the garden, freshly slaughtered chickens, and fish and crawfish caught in nearby streams and bayous. This bounty, having my mother as my mentor, and my whole family's emphasis on the importance of my family's culinary traditions influenced me a chef," said Chef Paul.
He added, "Knowing I wanted to make the preparation of food my life's work, I began to travel across the nation after completing high school. I worked in all kinds of restaurants. There were not many upscale restaurants around then – just a few in the big cities. I learned all I could about various ingredients and styles of cooking. Sometimes when I thought the food was too bland, I'd sneak in a few dried herbs and spices. When customers complimented the dishes from my station, I'd try to remember exactly what I had used but that wasn't easy, so I began keeping little notes of good mixes in my pockets. Sometimes I got caught by the Executive Chef, which didn't make me very popular."
After Chef Paul's hands-on education, he returned home and soon began to build a following by working at Commander's Palace, a restaurant in the Garden District of New Orleans. Later, in 1979, Chef Paul and his late wife, K Hinrichs Prudhomme, opened the 62-seat K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen on Chartres Street in the French Quarter. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the popular eatery. An expansion in 1995, based on the design of the original 1834 structure, added more space to make it a 200+-seat restaurant. Chef Paul still does not use freezers in the restaurant, ensuring that only the freshest ingredients continue to be used. That is why the menus are changed daily.
In addition to operating his restaurant, Paul wrote his first cookbook, Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, which was on the The New York Time's Bestseller List for many weeks. This cookbook put Chef Paul and his work in turning Louisiana cooking into a national food-trend and into the international spotlight. He produced The Prudhomme Family Cookbook soon after with his brothers and sisters and their spouses, featuring down-home recipes and accounts of cultural heritage. Other cookbooks followed, including Fork in the Road, Chef Paul Prudhomme's Pure Magic, Kitchen Expedition, Seasoned American Chef, Fiery Foods That I Love, and Louisiana Tastes. Some books were made into a public TV series and cooking videos. The PBS TV program, Chef Paul Prudhomme's Always Cooking, debuted in 2007.
In the early 1980s, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen introduced Chef Paul's culinary invention, blackened redfish. Federal trademark records show that Paul Prudhomme claims a first use of "turducken", (a Louisiana dish featuring a stuffed boneless chicken into a cornbread-stuffed de-boned duck into a boneless oyster-stuffed turkey breast) from November 27, 1990.
Chef Paul's penchant for adding spices to dishes he prepared as a youth evolved into a request for his spices when he opened K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. He had his staff prepare packets for diners who requested them. When demand got to be overwhelming, he decided to open a company to manufacture and market his seasonings. In 1983, a new company was born – Magic Seasoning Blends, Inc. The company now occupies 125,000 square feet, and distribution of the company's dry spices, rubs, and bottled sauces is to all 50 states and 29 foreign countries. Also, Chef Paul continues the manner in which his family smoked meats at his USDA-certified meat plant, using recipes passed down through generations of his family.
Paul Prudhomme has taken "his show on the road" since 1983. K-Paul's Catering Expedition travels several blocks down the road or halfway across the world. When they travel to locales, Chef Paul and his staff (including chefs, cooks, waitresses, bartenders, and dishwashers) apply the same "Gold Star" standards as in their restaurant. They go to great lengths to buy the highest quality seafood, meats, herbs and produce from fisherman and farmers. They pack their ingredients, along with pots, pans and stoves, and often add entertainment and regional tie-ins to their presentations.
Chef Paul has cooked for President Ronald Reagan's Inauguration, for various heads of state at economic summit meetings, and at congressional picnics. In the summers of 1983 and 1985 Chef Paul and company traveled to San Francisco and New York to give residents a "Taste of Louisiana." As an international ambassador, Chef Paul Prudhomme also consults with officials at restaurant chains and large food manufacturers to help them create new menu items, seasonings, or specialty dishes. Charity work is important to Chef Paul. He lends his support to charities such as Meals on Wheels, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and programs associated with assisting the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
There is a long list of honors and awards bestowed upon Chef Paul, including being named the first American-born chef to receive the coveted Merite' Agricole of the French Republic, the first chef invited to participate in the Robert Mondavi "Great Chefs of America" series, and being presented a Silver Spoon Award by Food & Arts Magazine. He has been featured in prominent magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Bon Appetit, Travel and Leisure, Playboy, and other publications. Chef Paul has appeared on TV programs including Good Morning America, Larry King Live, Late Night David Letterman, 20/20, Regis and Kathie Lee, and A&E's Biography.
Paul Prudhomme says, "I feel Louisiana is one of the primary places for creative cooking in the United States. We have diverse cultures and the mixture of these cultures have had an incredible impact on the creation of unique dishes. In addition, we have a 12-month growing season. When I was a kid, we had beets and carrots and onions in the ground in January and it is still that way today. Peppers grow wild and we like hot food, so they became a staple. We stuck to the seasons. My family is of the French culture. My first ancestor arrived in 1670 into my home area. My great, great, great-grandfather didn't speak English so he kept his associations within his own culture. My family members were sharecroppers, and food became our major source of entertainment. It became part of our culture that the most important person in our neighborhood and the most important family was the one that put on the best meal. In my case, any political or social gathering always ended up at our house because my mother was such a good cook. Her greatest gift to me was to give me the tools to be able to share the value of the tradition of Louisiana cooking with the world."
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