In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, so many of New Orleans’ treasures were lost. Thankfully, culinary treasure Chef Paul Prudhomme was not among them.
Katrina has brought Chef Paul out of his semi-retirement, back into his kitchen at K-Paul’s, and onto the road to share his story with the culinary community. Prudhomme made an appearance at the Center for Advancement of Foodservice Education’s (CAFÉ) conference at the Trident Culinary Academy last weekend. His speech, “Leadership in Challenging Times,” was given Saturday afternoon. I had an opportunity to speak with him Friday evening at a reception event held in Trident’s immaculate new $30-million culinary training facility.
Prudhomme was dressed in his customary head-to-toe whites and was sitting atop his signature Little Rascal. Between managing food preparations and shooing away cameras, he shared some leadership advice.
“Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared. I would never have expected the surprises of the last year. I am doing twice as much as I was a year ago, but I am glad that it came at this time.”
Most of Prudhomme’s restaurants escaped the hurricane unscathed, and of his 320 employees, 140 of them never had to leave New Orleans.
“We were very lucky. Now we need to get the city put back together with housing and jobs,” he said. “New Orleans is a creative city, and we need our creative community back — our chefs, our artists. Everything is going to take time, and there will be opposition, there will be mountains to climb, but the rewards will be worth the work.”
While talk was heavy, the chef’s mood was light. The reception was a festive affair, giving the conference guests a “Taste of Lowcountry Cuisine,” featuring recipes from some of the area’s most famous gourmands. Chef Paul was offering up his own mouth-watering bronzed beef tenderloin with gingersnap gravy, the mashed potato recipe made famous at his restaurant K-Paul’s, an Asian coleslaw, and a trio of diabetes-inducing pralines — original recipe, chocolate, and coconut.
His inscription in a cookbook — “Good cooking, good eating, good loving” — reflects his personal philosophy.
“That is what it has always been about,” he whispered, conspiratorially, as he signed one of his books. “You cook, you eat, and it shares love. You may not know the people you are cooking for, but you put your love into your food and people feel it.” — Elle Lien