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Obituary - Paul Prudhomme  

2015-10-28 23:37:10|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Obituary: Paul Prudhomme

The joy of jambalaya
Paul Prudhomme, king of Cajun cooking, died on October 8th, aged 75

Paul Prudhomme, king of Cajun cooking, died on October 8th, aged 75

IF YOU wanted the very image of a chef, you couldn’t do better than Paul Prudhomme. An enormous girth crammed into chef’s overalls of gleaming white; a white snap-brim cap; and a beaming smile, especially when stirring a bowl of thickly unctuous ham-flavoured red beans and rice, or pouring over the creamy, smothering sauce (ooh, yes!) for a Crawfish Etoufée. His TV spots ended with the words: “That’s good cookin’, good eatin’, good lovin’!”—and a wagging-finger order to do likewise.

He was a missionary as well as a chef, for in Louisiana food is a religion and the kitchen table an altar. Before he appeared, Cajun and Creole cuisines were local and didn’t travel; afterwards they became a passion all across America, to the point where his signature dish, Blackened Redfish, reached such heights of popularity that fishing for the vital ingredient had to be restricted. Food critics, even at the New York Times, swooned over his cookbooks. Before him, chefs at fancy American hotels tended to be Europeans; after him, an authentic native cuisine knocked the gastronomes from Paris sideways.

So he had dreamed since the age of eight, when he heard that a cook-relation was earning $150 a week. He was well on the way to chefdom even then, hanging on his mother’s hip as she made her Sticky Chicken (cooked in seasoned flour over low heat for hours) or Dirty Rice (boiled up with ground gizzards and chicken livers), or gave him, for a treat, the leftover filling from her Fig Sweet-Dough Pie. She had to cook for a farmer-husband and 13 children; he, the youngest, absorbed it all, in every sense. When he could barely reach the stove, he would cook pork chops the way he particularly liked them: no doubt with his “Holy Trinity” of onion, celery and bell peppers, a bit of flour to make everything glue deliciously to the bottom of the skillet for the gravy, and his own “magic” (later marketed) seasoning of black pepper, white pepper, salt, cayenne, thyme, bay leaves, paprika and garlic powder. For naturally, living in Louisiana, there was no herb or spice or sauce piquant (the more piquant, the better) he didn’t like.Wherever he opened a restaurant (not liking to take either cards or reservations), queues immediately formed for several blocks. His kitchens were hot as hell, filled with smoke from the blackening in scalding skillets, and amid it all the vast white form of Chef Paul would squeeze from station to station, sniffing here and tasting there and singing Cajun songs. For he couldn’t be happier: giving people great food, watching their eyes open in disbelief with that first bite, and hearing them say to their neighbour, “Try this! It’s fantastic!”  

Whether his cuisine was Cajun or Creole was furiously debated throughout the state. He himself called it Cajun: French country cooking, in effect, passed down by the French Acadians after their forced trek south from Canada to the bayous of the Gulf. When he started as head chef at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, a Creole city, in 1975, he brought in foods that had seldom if ever crossed the parish line. Andouille (smoked sausage) and tasso (spiced ham) he fetched himself from his family’s old butcher. Every bit of an animal was used and every vegetable was fresh as could be, remembering how good his mama’s potato salad was when the spuds had been in the ground two hours before.

He was prepared to chop and change a little. Even he didn’t dare to cook with rustic pork lard at Commander’s, and had to learn to make a roux with butter instead. He tried to lighten up recipes for more sophisticated Creole tastes, including putting shrimp in gumbo instead of his beloved crawfish, which Creoles scorned. No sooner had he got his own place, though—K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen on Chartres Street, all cast-iron balconies and tall shutters, where from 1979 he ruled the kitchen and his wife K ran the dining room—than decorum went to the winds. Diners sat at communal tables, ate with their greasy hands, got yelled at if they didn’t clear every scrap of their Poor Man’s Jambalaya, and were blissfully happy.

Flies and pies

This untrammelled joy in dining sometimes travelled badly. In 1985, when he hit New York (taking his pots, rice and shrimp with him), the Health Board refused to let his restaurant open because they found flies in the kitchen. With hundreds of customers already waiting, he faced them down. First, there were always flies around; and second, in New Orleans “you give [the Health Board] a piece of pie and the violations are going away, you know?” Country boy or not, he loved his adopted city, and when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 he worked to feed, for nothing, hundreds of stranded citizens and army helpers. His life was to lift people up with food.

As American tastes changed at the end of the 20th century, he adapted more nimbly than might have been expected. The gigantic amounts of butter were reduced a little, as were the spoons of salt; he professed to be liking roasted wholegrains. As long as cayenne, jalape?os and Tabasco were around, the Cajun appellation was still safe. He actually lost weight himself, by managing to eat smaller portions; and was surprised to find (mmmm! oooh! just dip a spoon in!) that he treasured and savoured those Louisiana dishes even more than he had before.

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