It was with sadness that I learned of the death of Chef Paul Prudhomme yesterday morning. Although I never had the opportunity to work for him or even eat in his restaurant, I learned a tremendous amount from him throughout the years. Though my knowledge was indirect I grew up in the culture the Chef Paul helped develop. He revolutionized Cajun and Creole cooking in the United States and brought it to the world. Not just with Blackened Redfish either. His use of indigenous ingredients and the employment of cooking methods like curing his own meats - tasso, charcuterie (making his own sausage) andouille, SMOKING!!! WOW!!! and his use of high powered seasonings - like cayenne pepper - Incredible!!!! These things made his food jump off the plate and on to your palate!!! I was blessed to have the opportunity to "come of age" in this environment. His cooking methods are responsible for countless cooks and chefs in the field today to be sure. A tremendous amount of the way I cook today has been influenced by this mans legacy.
One such mentor was JB Holstien. JB apprenticed at KPaul's, Chef Paul Prudhomme's famous French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, for 2 years. JB told me that he showed up there everyday for 2 weeks solid and just sat in the hiring office until the General Manager Glenn Adams, finally gave him an interview. Once he did get hired he said they allowed him to chop vegetables, make stock and butcher fish for 6 months before he got a chance to cook anything. From there he worked his way up to hot apps (appetizers for those not into kitchen lingo). He learned his culinary foundation there. Just for example making stocks - most people by that time had gotten away from the arduous process of stock making. In a busy kitchen like that it is a tremendous commitment of resources to make stock. But Chef Prudhomme understood - that stock is the foundation of flavor. That commitment was just the way he did business. The knowledge that this style of cooking, imparted to me while working under Chef Holstien, impacted my path forever. I had the opportunity to work for JB directly after his time at KPauls, while he was the chef at The White Pillars restaurant in Biloxi Mississippi and again at another restaurant as his sous chef. The hours were long and the work was sometimes hard, but I could never replace the experience and knowledge gained in that time. JB also passed away a few years ago in Houston, we were not close as too often happens, but his indelible mark will always remain.
In his foundational cookbook Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, he lays out those foundations. He talks about rouxs, stocks, the size of a vegetable cut, how important that is in the way a dishes flavors come together, the use of herbs and spices, when to use dry, when to use fresh, on and on. But all in all it was something more with him, his pride in his heritage, Louisiana, the fabric and culture of New Orleans and the food that made him special. He will be missed, we have lost a true legend!