Paul Prudhomme, the Cajun who popularized spicy Louisiana cuisine and became one of the first American restaurant chefs to achieve worldwide fame, died Thursday. He was 75. Tiffanie Roppolo, the CFO of Prudhomme's businesses, told the AP that he died early Thursday after a brief illness. Prudhomme became prominent in the early 1980s, soon after opening K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, a French Quarter diner that served the meals of his childhood. He had no formal training, but sparked a nationwide interest in Cajun food by serving dishes—gumbo, etouffee, and jambalaya—that were virtually unknown outside Louisiana. The distinctly American chef became a sensation at a time when the country's top restaurants served virtually nothing but European food.
Prudhomme was known for his innovations. His most famous dishes used the technique he called blackening: fish or meat covered with spices, then seared until black in a red-hot skillet. Blackened redfish became so popular that Prudhomme lamented over customers who stopped ordering the traditional Cajun dishes that he loved (and commercial fishing of redfish was restricted, else it might have gone extinct, WWL reports). Prudhomme also invented "turducken," a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey, Eater reports. "Chef Paul" was known for experimenting in the kitchen, often altering recipes with different seasonings and cooking processes. He particularly liked varying blends of three peppers: black, white, and cayenne; he has his own line of spices called Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blends. Prudhomme's bearded face and oversized frame became familiar on television talk shows in the 1980s, where he encouraged Americans to spice up their meals; he also published bestselling cookbooks. Click for more on his life.