N T E R V I E W
Paul has become an icon for regional cooking. He has kept
the tradition of Louisiana's cuisine alive but still adding
his own twists. His love of cooking was handed down through
many generations of his family. He is here with us to share
what he has learned and to teach us how we can inherit his
love of cuisine.
Where did your inspiration
to become such a culinary icon come from?
It wasn't a conscious decision. I was from a large family,
I was the last of 13 children. Someone had to help mother
feed all these people.We were a farm family...we had no
gas or electric. We had a wood burning stove. My mother
would put me on a wooden box at the stove and tell me to
call her if certain things would happen. Like if the steam
turns blue thatís danger.......if the noise from
frying gets too high call me....She would then come and
correct those things. These are my earliest cooking memories.
Some people absorb in different ways. I didnít realize
until I was 15 years old how much I retained.
in the skillet. I talk to it. Tell me how to make it better
...all of a sudden I realize I had done that when I was
little. Change taste...add color.......ruin it if you add
too much color.
blackened redfish that you made famous is now all over the
country in dishes like blackened chicken, pork, etc. Is
this a technique that works for everything or do you think
that people have gone to far?
season too much. 98% of it is misunderstood. If you put
the improper amount of color you evaporate the moisture.
The fibers get dry. For example, paper won't burn until
you take the moisture out. It's a controlled process.
have acid in food you need to sugar it. At a high temperature
the acids are changed to sugar. If you understand it ...stop
there....leave the moisture inside. The best is naturally
in a piece of meat.
people are confused about the difference between Cajun and
Creole food. Would you mind defining each and describing
Paul: It's very simple.
is country food by farmers and fisherman that arrived in
Louisiana from Acadiana, Canada. Four hundred years ago
they came from France to Canada, they isolated themselves
in the bayou of Louisiana. My father's family arrived from
France the documentation is very strong, they arrived in
Louisiana in 1763. They had a land grant from Spain owning
50,000 acres from 1767 -1940. My family spoke nothing but
French. So Cajun came from Acadiana.
is New Orleans city food. Communities were created by the
people who wanted to stay and not go back to Spain or France.
All these prominent citizens needed servants. And entertainment
was part of business.....if you set a great table in the
1700's to 1800's you were successful. And...having a great
cook was very important. Many people had servants that drifted
from job to job. They'd go from a Spanish family, to a French
one, to an Irish one. And the best place to be was in the
kitchen, they made the most money and were the most important.
As these nationalities mixed Creole cooking was created.
Creole has a tremendous food knowledge.
changed and families couldn't keep their help, they would
open restaurants.....and that is how great restaurants got
is the history of that famous soup gumbo? And do you prefer
sassafras or okra as a thickener?
Paul: Literally the
word is in the African language which means okra. When Africans
came over as slaves, okra was an important part of their
life. Okra seeds were brought over in the braids of African
is also called "fiel" in French, it grows naturally
in Louisiana.....Cajuns were introduced to it by the Indians.....if
you keep adding water, it actually creates a string... As
a kid we used the roots to make medicine and teas.I use
both okra and sassafras.
famous dish of your area is Jambalaya -- could describe
the roots of this dish and what characterizes it?
Paul: I can describe
it from my own experience.First time I did Jambalaya, I
did it on the Today Show . When I saw my brothers
& sisters (and I have many of them) they called me aside
and said...(I was the youngest, they still call me "boy"......why
did you do that old dish on TV for? Tha's the worst. That's
poor man's food . This almost blew me away. He didnít
know it was one of the most precious things we had. I grew
up with no refrigeration.....our Jambalaya was created from
leftovers. We'd take everything...fish,frogs legs.....chicken.......my
mom would put everything together and cook it until it got
color. We had no freezer to save food, so wed just put it
in the pot.
delicious. When you developed your line of spices did you
ever think that they would become so popular?
No, we never expected it. It was gradual. I was traveling
for 12 years. I would get a job in LA.....and they hadn't
tasted anything like the food I made with theses spices.
So, when I came back to LA one of my missions was to teach.
But it was hard to explain........however, if I mixed them
together no one would make a mistake. Customers would ask
for some spices .....it was easier to put it in a little
tin foil or them to take home. Then a waitress named Sally,
drew a cartoon of a chef and scotchtaped it to a jewelry
bag. They started to sell really well.So...since we were
only opened Monday through Friday, on the weekend we'd borrow
a pastry chef's blender and put them in bottles and glue
the labels on . When we finally got a glue machine we were
so excited that we didn 't need to put the glue on anymore.
Finally we heard about a distributor and we were hoping
he'd take the thing off us. By the end of '82 a company
was officially formed. Now it's in 30 countries! Now we
can do 150 in a minute! This would have taken us a year
do you think is the defining dish of your area?
Paul: What I think
and what the world thinks is totally different. I know what
I eat. When I was young we'd butcher a hog, cure it and
smoke it, cover it with hot lard to preserve it for the
rest of the year in order to have meat. Each neighbor would
slaughter something and help each other. Everyone would
take a portion until it was gone. We'd literally make a
candy out of the sweet potatoes. We'd make dirty rice with
ground pork, beef or duck gizzards. Weíd dig up potatoes
to make potato salad and boil eggs wtih them. Weíd
take the yolks beat them with oil and make mayo. When I
am done with this meal you can have my life. It is heaven.
one simple tip could you tell our StarChefs viewers?
Paul: it would be
the one I give most during cooking demonstrations. Itís
about understanding the raw material.I'll give you this
example: We trust something in a grocery store and assume
it's good. We don't learn about the most precious thing
in life..the food we put in our body. Educate yourself.
Don't get fancy. Have you cooked an apple pie? You don't
know what you did wrong? Do this: Take 2 or 3 apples. Put
them on a table. Study them. First there was a flower, then
the apple started growing, then it changed color, then there
was a stem on it.....see the small indentation where the
stem was. See the rim of color. Take the skin off . See
if there is a lot of acid or if it is sweet. Is the skin
too thick,too thin? Think about it when you chew it. Note
the texture...is it crumbly, hard, juicy? Is there an after
do this and delight in it. Chef Paul, you've been such a
pleasure to talk to.
One more thing i'd like to say to you. One of the problems
of our youth is that the family unit is broken up. When
we'd sit down to dinner together as a family with my brothers
and sisters we'd learn about each other. We had something
people don't get today.
We didn't do wrong
things because we didn't want to embarass our parents. It's
the sense of what family is at the dinner table. It was
aobut he joy of knowing htat mother was in the kitchen making
our favorite dish. It was part of our fibre. I wish more
people would do this and recall the joy of life.
We should take it from a pro. Good day....good eats.