Paul Prudhomme, Big Easy Chef Who Led Cajun Cooking Revolution, Dead at 75

by / Newsroom Ink on October 9, 2015
In the days following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Chef Paul Prudomme(r) joined other chefs (r-l) including Chicago Chef Rick Tramonto and Chef Chris Lusk to inform the public on the importance of Gulf Seafood to restaurants and consumers. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

In the days following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Chef Paul Prudhomme (r) joined other chefs (r-l) including Chicago Chef Rick Tramonto and Chef Chris Lusk to inform the public on the importance of Gulf Seafood to restaurants and consumers. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor

Paul Prudhomme, the New Orleans beloved celebrity chef responsible for turning a once underulitized Gulf fish into one of the most popular in the world, died Thursday, October 8th in his beloved Crescent City.

As a chef, the 75 year-old Prudhomme was know for combining southern tradition with fresh, local ingredients. He was credited with taking Cajun cooking out of the bayous of Southern Louisiana and popularizing it worldwide.

The chef, proprietor of K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter, hit the big-time with his Gulf Blackened Red Fish. The dish, butter dipped fillets dusted with cayenne pepper and a mix of dried herbs then seared in a red-hot iron skillet until covered in a black crust, was so popular it led to overfishing of the once unpopular fish and its eventual demise from the commercial fisheries. 

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As a chef, the 75 year-old Prudhomme was know for combining southern tradition with fresh, local ingredients. Photo: Jim Gossen/Gulf Seafood Institue

“Chef Paul was a visionary whose passion for Louisiana’s indigenous cuisine was presented so well throughout his career,” said Stan Harris, CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association and a Gulf Seafood Institute board member. “He helped launch the dreams of so many other chefs, and his legacy will be sustained through his ‘Magic Seasonings’. He will be missed.”

Prudhomme was raised on a farm near Opelousas. He is the youngest of 13 children. He was named Paul on his birth certificate because a priest thought he should have the same name as a saint, but during his youth went by Gene Autry Prudhomme.

In 1957 he opened his first restaurant in Opelousas, a hamburger restaurant called Big Daddy O’s Patio. The restaurant went out of business in nine months.

The future chef became a magazine seller in New Orleans. It was during this period he began creating his own spice mixes that he gave to customers.

In 1970 he started work as a sous chef at the Le Pavilion Hotel after a brief stint in Colorado as chef at the Elkhorn Lodge in Estes Park. He left the hotel to open Clarence Dupuy’s restaurant Maison du Puy. It was there he met his wife Kay.

In 1975, Prudhomme became executive chef at Commander’s Palace under owner Richard Brennan, Sr. There he turned the unsuccessful Garden District restaurant into a world-class destination for food. In 1979, he opened the now famous K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter, with his wife as the manager and him as chef.

For a while he attempted to operate both Commander’s Palace and K-Paul’s, but the success of the new restaurant was such he moved to work there full-time and hired a little known chef named Emeril Lagasse to work in the kitchen.

In 1980, he was made a Chevalier (Knight) of the French Ordre National du Mérite Agricole in honor of his work with Cajun and Creole cuisines.

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In 1984 Chef Paul authored the best-selling cookbook “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen” and became one of the first American superstar chefs. Photo: LSPMB

“I credit Chef Paul for paving the way for his peers by bringing their profession to the forefront,” said Jim Gossen, Chairman of Sysco Louisiana Seafood and a board member of the Gulf Seafood Institute. “He took his humble beginnings in the Deep South of Louisiana and catapulted Cajun cuisine to national recognition.  He was a passionate cook that inspired many others and me that followed.”

In 1984 Chef Paul authored the best-selling cookbook “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen” and became one of the first American superstar chefs.

Prudhomme was forced to close his restaurant following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. During restoration efforts he cooked for free at a relief center for the military and residents in the French Quarter; at one point his team cooked more than 6,000 meals in ten days. The following October he reopened the restaurant. Bon Appétit awarded him their Humanitarian Award in 2006 for his efforts following the hurricane.

“Chef Paul Prudhomme was, and will always be, a culinary icon”, explained Ewell Smith, former Executive Director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, who worked closely with Chef Paul after both Katrina and the BP Oil Spill.  “Not to mention, he put Louisiana Seafood on the map nationally before cooking shows went mainstream. Louisianans lost one of their own today. Our nation lost one of the best chefs ever.”

Tiffanie Roppolo, the chief financial officer for his numerous business endeavors, confirmed Prudhomme’s death. His wife Lori and brother Eli survive the Chef whose wife Kay died of cancer in 1993.

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About the Author

About the Author: Ed Lallo is the former editor of Gulf Seafood News and CEO of Newsroom Ink, an online brand journalism agency. .

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  1. Kevin R. Roberts says:

    They don’t make ’em like this anymore. Paul Prudhomme, like Billy Gruber, always taste their food as they go along. The new generation of chefs make the commom mistake of puting visuals over flavor. Cedric Martin once reminded me to slow down and actually taste the flavor. I suspect that this silly trend is the direct result of television. TV also killed music, which explains why there are so few good bands these days. Prudhomme should be proud of doing it right.

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