Coronavirus. COVID-19. Global Pandemic. Words that weren’t bandied about by your average person before 2020, and words that make your humble narrator, Drew Carré, quite sad. Like the rest of the world, Louisiana was hit hard this year - socially, economically, and, perhaps uniquely, culturally.
Amidst all the kerfuffle, New Orleans lost an iconic restaurant when K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, tucked in behind the ostentatious Supreme Courthouse on Chartres Street in the French Quarter, closed its doors for good. For 41 years, this historic restaurant, founded by Paul Prudhomme and his wife Kay, served up gumbo, etouffée and blackened redfish and helped put New Orleans on the culinary map. Cajun and creole cooking went from a largely local thing to a worldwide phenomenon!
Prudhomme grew up in St. Landry Parish, one of 13 kids (kudos to Ma Hazel!), and had no formal culinary training. But he did love to help his mother cook “down home” food in her kitchen (lookin’ atcha again Ma!). Soon he opened his first restaurant in the bustling metropolis of Opelousas: Big Daddy-O’s Patio, specializing in hamburgers. Thankfully for the rest of us, this eating establishment bombed and nudged Paul out of his hometown parish and onto bigger things. He went on to sell magazines in New Orleans, and host radio programs, referring to himself as “Gene Autry Prudhomme” (I kid y’all not.) He opened a restaurant in New York, ignoring bland suggestions that he actually needed a license to do so. He had a bad habit of forgetting to take his gun out of his carry-on luggage on flights, leaving that job to the implacable x-ray machines at various airports.
Through all this, Paul Prudhomme had become the first American-born executive of Commander’s Palace (yes Virginia, there was life before Emeril!) and co-founder of K-Paul’s.
Plug Alert! Mr. Prudhomme passed in 2015, but not before he would go on to create his own seasoning mixes and hot sauces. He was the inspiration for many other locals to develop their own unique brands of seasonings, hot sauces, dinner mixes and cocktail ingredients. Cajun@Home prides itself on dusting off the old jalopy and driving deep into the bayous to find the next Paul Prudhomme and distribute their products to you. We think Paul would approve.
Life is too short to not “eat real good cookin’”. Don’t let the pandemic get you down. If you can’t get to New Orleans, do the next best thing and cook up your own delicious Cajun or Creole concoction, using local regional ingredients. Which leads me to come back to perhaps Paul Prudhomme’s greatest gift to whetting whistles…
There are stories afloat that suggest that, back in the day, Cajuns would eat anything and that a “hawk gumbo tasted about the same as an owl gumbo.” As if to prove these stories true, Paul would take the lowly redfish, considered trash fish at the time, and create the delightful gastronomic idea of “blackening” it. Soon, redfish were no longer simply thrown to the gators or put in a court bouillon as an afterthought. In fact, restrictions were put on its commercial fishing so that it didn’t go extinct! Now that’s influence, baby!
If you’re interested in the blackening process, make sure to check out Chef Karen’s video on this website and order some fine Louisiana-made products in the store so that you can replicate her recipe. Serve it to your safe-distancing friends, raise a glass to shooing that pesky Covid away for good, and tell them that Drew Carré sent ya!