Paul Prudhomme died yesterday at age 75. The chef who popularized Cajun cuisine had a huge impact on my life. When I was in grad school at Rutgers, my partner and I and our best friends shared many home-cooked meals together in Highland Park and Lambertville, New Jersey. Although I grew up cooking, like my mom, it was not until graduate school that I really got into it.
And just as my parents were profoundly influenced by Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), that was published the year they married, my partner and I embraced Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (1984), published several years prior to our first year in grad school, as well as The Prudhomme Family Cookbook — because Paul was reportedly the worst cook in his family, sharecroppers with 13 children. My mother’s family is from Louisiana, and I grew up eating jambalaya, corn maque choux, etoufee, and gumbo, along with her French cooking. My dad loved to eat but thankfully never made it to Paul Prudhomme’s 500 lbs. It wasn’t until grad school, however, that I really embraced cooking and entertaining. Back then, some people even called me “Claire Prudfemme”…
Eating together is essential to building community. In fact, many people hypothesize that Congressional relationships have deteriorated because people no longer live together in Washington and meet across party lines at dinner parties. Thus, they never develop what Robert Putnam calls “social capital,” the “connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” that form a necessary prerequisite for economic prosperity and effective government.”
Personally, I am committed to making sure that social capital is alive and well in our community. Thank you Paul Prudhomme for sharing your recipes and your inspiring rags to riches story with us. You really did help make the world a better place.