While I realize that in “newspaper time” I am perhaps late to the party, I remain compelled, by a sense of mourning, by homesickness, out of desire to celebrate and appreciate such an important life, to reach out today regarding the death of chef Paul Prudhomme. As a transplant to New Orleans (family originally from Iberville Parish; born in Washington, D.C.), and as someone who is currently studying abroad in Galway, Ireland, chef Paul has always been my anchor, my tether to home.
I found him present at every major holiday — his grillades and grits simmering on my Aunt MaeMae’s stove during my 72-member-family’s Christmas feast, a Tupperware bowl full of his gumbo in my fridge when I came home late from a trying day at Sacred Heart (Go Cardinals!). When those trying days translated into good grades or graduations, we always celebrated at K-Paul’s. There was no greater reward.
Instead of phone books raising the children of my family up to the dinner table, they sat on a couple of his voluminous cookbooks (We were more likely to have several chef Paul cookbooks than we were a phone book!), his spices fell out of our cabinet, reruns of his TV specials played in the background as my family and various friends got drunk and laughed, and argued, and picked off each other’s plates. Now in college, I add depth to ramen dinners with dashes of Magic Seasoning; I put his hot sauces on my Lean Cuisines.
Just a week before his death, my mother sent me a care package with several different K-Paul brand seasonings so I could “have a taste of home” in Ireland. His name was, and remains, synonymous with comfort. So often we represent Louisiana in abstract clichés, but chef Paul’s greatest achievement was that he made the deliciousness of our city tangible, edible, reproducible in our own homes for future generations.
As a current English major, a recurring theme in my studies is immortalization through creative work (think: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see/So long lives this and this gives life to thee”), and while my heart aches at chef Paul’s very present absence at our hearth, I know his creativity, his authenticity, his love for our city is renewed in every forkful consumed, every recipe read, every extended belly that represents a soul fortified.
In memoriam to his life, I hope that when I return home and raise my children I can inspire them to be like chef Paul: kind, generous New Orleanians who bravely follow their passions wherever it may lead them. And who knows, maybe one day they’ll be the kind of people who go out and invent something as glorious as the turducken.