One of the most amazing meals I’ve ever eaten was in the presence of an amazing chef: Paul Prudhomme.
We had taken a crew to the Louisiana Gulf to find out what had happened to the oyster industry since the Gulf Oil Spill—officially known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill–began April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. Of course that story had to include the impact on the restaurants, as well as any impact on the taste of the oysters.
We spent days talking to chefs and eating oysters made every possible (and delicious) way—fresh out of the water, char-grilled with a hefty dose of butter, battered and fried, and more. Throughout our visit, one theme was clear: Paul Prudhomme was the acknowledged hero of the food industry in New Orleans.
He invited us upstairs at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, while one of our on-camera hosts got into the kitchen with Chef Paul Miller. There, we simply talked.
He told me his wife’s name had been Kay (also my name), and that gave me an open door to ask questions. There was such a softness in his face as he spoke her name, and I knew that memories were coursing through him.
He asked us what we wanted to eat off the menu, and then added to it so we could be sure to taste all of his specialties: Turtle Soup, rich with ground meat, vegetables, and the kind of stock that is only built by simmering a long time; Blackened Louisiana Drum, cooked in a cast iron skillet that had been seasoned literally for years; Deep-Fried Oysters, served Po-Boy style on buttered French Bread, and so good I can taste them to this day. There was more, including Bread Pudding with a unique hard sauce I think you can only find at K-Paul’s (at least I’ve never found that flavor anywhere else). While we ate, he gave us his history, talked about how kind people were in crediting him for the attention paid to New Orleans, and spoke like a man more interested in other people’s opinions than in his own.
We felt like we were in the presence of culinary royalty, as, indeed, we were.
Lots will be said about Paul Prudhomme, and the media will no doubt fully cover his early days on TV, his cookbooks, and his seasonings company. I, for one, feel grateful to be able to remember a man with softness in his eyes as he talked about family, friends, and the city he loved.
P.S. Our work turned into a documentary entitled, Beneath the Surface. You can watch all four webisodes by clicking here.
Photos by David Nehmer.