I never knew Paul Prudhomme. Years ago, I saw him outside one afternoon in New Orleans, perhaps taking a break. I never dined at his restaurant, although I did have several wonderful meals at his sister's place outside Opelousas. Recently, I received this text from my husband, "Paul Prudhomme died," and I was immediately saddened and whisked away to our life over 20 years ago. Yes, you may call it odd that my husband would send me such a text but then again, if you know us, then you may not be so surprised. Our "foodie" lives may have started with Paul Prudhomme.
As background, we had just returned to the States after living three years in Europe (the first time). We were young, just out of college and in our first jobs. I do not remember much cooking going on back then. We worked hard and we played hard and somewhere in the middle, we managed to still travel a great deal. Upon our return, we landed briefly in Georgia for school and then life came crashing down as we learned we were being sent to Louisiana. Neither one of us had ever been to Louisiana but it sounded hot, humid and devoid of anything interesting. Needless to say, we were not happy.
I cannot remember what time of year we arrived in Leesville. I do remember that it was not much of a town. The closest McDonald's was nearly an hour away as was a real shopping mall. There was a dive Mexican place that served pretty good margaritas. We quickly found a two bedroom townhouse that had a drive-up beer distributor at the end of the street. During crayfish season, you could also buy a bag of cooked or uncooked "mudbugs" as you bought your case of beer. Parties on the weekend were the norm probably because there wasn't much else to do. On top of that, Dear Husband spent weeks at a time on deployments. We were not lovin' it.
However, with the deployments came benefits. Upon return, long weekends were passed out like Halloween candy. This gave us the opportunity to travel again and remembering our time in Europe, we embraced it. It did not take long to figure out; however, that all roads led to New Orleans. Soon, it did not matter if it was a four, three or regular two day weekend. We had it down to a science.
On "Departure Day", we would be in the car by 5:00 am. We would arrive at The Camilla Grill just before 9:00 am. Upon entering, we'd take a seat at the bar and order huge three egg omelets that came with french fries (good grief, we could eat a lot then). Sometimes, we would even have pecan pie or a milkshake for dessert. After breakfast, we would take the short drive past Tulane and into the French Quarter. We had already called Remy to request our favorite room in our favorite hotel. It had big windows that looked over the street and we could listen to the hustle and bustle of life. We might take a break or walk around town. Sometimes, we even had lunch (which seems amazing to us now - how did we have the room?). We stopped in bars, listened to Dixie Jazz, stopped in nearby squares for pop-up concerts, looked at menus and began to educate ourselves on the cuisine of the area.
For dinner, it was always nearly the same place - Galatoire's. I forgot to mention that after we checked into our hotel, our first course of business was to call Galatoire's and ask for Mr. LaFleur. Mr. LaFleur was a long time waiter of the restaurant. If he was off, then speaking to his nephew would occur. This was an important step as Galatoire's, at the time, did not take reservations and there was always a long line. "Mr. LaFleur, it is XXX XXX. How are you?" Pleasantries would be exchanged and then the business would begin. "We would like a table for two at 7:00 pm. Would that be possible?" We arrived at the appointed time, walked up to the front door and let the doorman know that Mr. LaFleur was expecting us. We bypassed the entire line, sat down, had a cocktail and felt pretty big...at 26 years of age. We ordered the Godshaw Salad (which was off the menu), enjoy rack of lamb with a nice red wine and spend a wonderful evening. A few times, we were able to venture into the kitchen as if we were long lost friends. Again, at age 26, it was a heady experience and truly began this culinary journey.
However, it was not all hedonistic. Slowly, we began learning about the cuisine and were curious enough to start trying different dishes at home. Paul Prudomme was everywhere and we frequently used his recipes in our own little kitchen cooking school. There was red beans and rice, gumbo, and etoufee to discover...shrimp po-boys, remoulade sauce, and boiled crayfish. Suddenly, our circumstance did not seem so bad. Our culinary life had begun. We left Louisiana less than a year later, a bit saddened by the departure but oh. so much wiser.
We carried our passion and what we had learned to all of the other places that we lived and by now, food really does permeate our lives. We believe that cooking brings the family together. We believe that our nightly dinner, whether it is a simple soup or a three course "fancy" meal brings the family together. We believe, as Paul believed, in sourcing locally and we believe...in food!So, thank you, Paul Prudhomme.