The legendary Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, who died on October 8 in New Orleans, was primarily responsible (along with the late Justin Wilson, to a lesser degree) for both modernizing the traditional Acadian — or Cajun — cuisine of his native Louisiana and bringing it vividly to the attention of the American dining public.
Though the heat has cooled considerably over the years, in the latter 1970s and 1980s, "Cajun" was a genuine food fad around the country, thanks largely to Prudhomme's cooking at the famed Commander's Palace and then his own K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. Seduced by the forthright, complex flavors of Prudhomme's specialties, including his takes on traditional red beans and rice, gumbo, and jambalaya, as well as innovations like "Cajun popcorn" (crawfish tails deep-fried in batter), Cajun chicken Diane, and above all blackened redfish, American diners went Cajun-crazy for a time.
Prudhomme's own pungent spice mixes flew off the grocery store shelves (they're still on the market, and well worth trying), Cajun restaurants opened all over America, and the adjective Cajun became attached (and still is) to thousands of dishes across the nation — anything with even vaguely spicy seasoning — most of which were (or are) about as Cajun as Martha Stewart.
Since his untimely death, scores if not hundreds of obituaries and encomiums have been published about Prudhomme, and he richly deserves all the praise he's getting. Even with all this press, there may be a few things people don't know about him, however. Read on for 10 things you didn't know about Paul Prudhomme.
He Wasn't Always Called Paul
Though he was christened with that name, as a boy and young man, he went by "Gene Autry Prudhomme" in homage to the famed "singing cowboy" of the same name.
He was Really Short
Prudhomme measured just over five feet in height. Both his girth and his stature in the food community probably made him seem taller to many.