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The Salt

Remembering Paul Prudhomme, The Louisiana Chef Who 'Made Magic'

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New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhomme prepares barbecue shrimp at the annual White House Congressional Picnic in 2007.
Marvin Joseph, Washington Post/Getty Images
New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhomme prepares barbecue shrimp at the annual White House Congressional Picnic in 2007.

"Man, in New Orleans we really are fortunate — we got some of the best things in the world," Chef Paul Prudhomme once said. "And one of those things is the mufaletta sandwich."

And one of the best things about New Orleans was Prudhomme himself.

He was known for introducing blackened redfish to the rest of us, for his cooking demos and for his line of magic spices. Needless to say, Prudhomme changed the way the world saw Louisiana cooking.

He has died at the age of 75.

Poppy Tooker, a native New Orleanian and host of the radio show Louisiana Eats!, spoke to All Things Considered's Kelly McEvers on Thursday about how Prudhomme changed the way we think about food.

"Paul didn't just change the way the country and the world viewed the food of southern Louisiana, but in fact because he grew up on a sharecropping farm as one of 13, they lived off the land completely. So when Paul got his first big break and worked at Commander's Palace [a restaurant in New Orleans], he began the farm to table movement."

What's more, says Tooker, by "eating local, seasonal, fresh, he revolutionized the entire American food scene, not just Creole and Cajun."

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Prudhomme was actually the first American chef hired at Commander's Palace, says Tooker. "Before that time, as in much of the U.S., everybody thought that you had to go to France to get a chef if you were going to have a fine-dining establishment. And he changed all that."

In the grocery aisle, Prudhomme was perhaps best known for his Magic Spice Blend, which contains salt, paprika, white pepper, onion powder, garlic power, black pepper, thyme and oregano. "It was really, really unique and he literally kept it in his pocket," says Tooker.

The menu dish Prudhomme was most famous for is blackened redfish. "He created it almost on a whim, in a black iron skillet," she says. "He passed it out into a restaurant and everybody loved the redfish so much that quickly a fish that had kind of been a trash fish it became so sought after that he was literally responsible through that dish for that entire species almost becoming extinct."

But what Tooker says she will remember most about Prudhomme is "his enormous generosity of spirit. Paul was a man who could never tell you no. His heart was always open, and a smile was always on his face. And whether it was in the pot or in the pan, he was always making a little magic."

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