10 Things You Didn't Know About Paul Prudhomme

10 Things You Didn't Know About Paul Prudhomme

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.

He Wasn't Always Called Paul

He Wasn't Always Called Paul

Photo Modified: Flickr / U.S. Department of Agriculture / CC BY 4.0

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.

He Once Weighed More Than 500 Pounds

He Once Weighed More Than 500 Pounds

Photo Modified: Flickr / Carl Lender / CC BY 4.0

Prudhomme once tipped the scales at more than 500 pounds, and had to get around on a motorized scooter. In the early 1990s, he went on a diet of his own devising and lost 130 pounds. 

He Was a Dead Ringer for Actor Dom DeLuise

Dom DeLuise

Photo Modified: Flickr / Jelene Morris CC BY 4.0

DeLuise, who died in 2009, claimed to have once successfully impersonated Prudhomme at K-Paul's.

He was Once Grazed by a Bullet on a Golf Course

He was Once Grazed by a Bullet on a Golf Course

Photo Modified: Flickr / L.C. Nøttaasen / CC BY 4.0

While cooking for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans golf tournament in 2008, he felt what he later described as a "bee sting" on his arm. In fact, it was a falling bullet: Someone with a mile or so of the course had apparently fired a rifle into the air. Though he was nicked, and the bullet put a hole in his chef's coat, he did not require medical attention, and was back cooking within minutes.

He Defied the New York City Board of Health

During the summer of 1985, Prudhomme planned to open a temporary restaurant (the term "pop-up" wasn't yet in use) in Manhattan. The health department found some 29 violations on the site before it opened. Prudhomme opened anyway. The Board of Health threatened criminal prosecution, including jail time, but Mayor Ed Koch stepped in to support the chef, and the restaurant thrived for five weeks.

He Later Opened a More Permanent Restaurant in New York City

He Later Opened a More Permanent Restaurant in New York City

Photo Modified: Flickr / Michael Bentley / CC BY 4.0

In 1989, in partnership with the Ark Restaurant Group, Prudhomme launched an outpost of K-Paul's on lower Broadway in Manhattan. (It closed in 1992.)

He Was Indirectly Responsible for the Near-Demise of a Species

His blackened redfish became so popular and was so widely imitated all over the country that the fish itself — Sciaenops ocellatus, also known as red drum — became endangered through aggressive overfishing. A ban on taking the species through most of 1988, as well as Prudhomme's own development of similar recipes using other species, saved the redfish from true endangerment.

He Once Tried to Bring a Gun Onto an Airplane

In 1992, he was arrested when a loaded handgun was found in his carry-on at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. He claimed that he had simply forgotten that it was there and was later released.

He Went to Guantanamo

Nothing to do with that handgun on the plane. As a treat for U.S. troops stationed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, he traveled there in 2004 with 4,000 pounds of food to cook for our boys in the Caribbean.