5 Famous New Orleans Chefs and Their Homes
5 Famous New Orleans Chefs and their Homes
The Home of Emeril Lagassi
Known for his personality as much as his cooking, Chef Emeril Lagassi is likely the most well known male Chef in the United States. Emeril gained early fame after replacing Chef Paul Prudhomme as the Executive Chef at Commander’s Palace, a world famous New Orleans restaurant, in 1985 for a period of seven years. When asked about the origin of his popular catch-phrase, “BAM!”, he credits it to his early days with the cooking show “Essence of Emeril”, which he took on after leaving Commander’s. Due to Emeril’s demanding shooting schedule, if he thought audience members were getting bored or tired, he would throw out a loud “Bam!” to wake them up. The phrase caught on and made him famous. Unfortunately his former New Orleans home didn’t have the same outgoing personality. Set in the South Lake Pontchartrain neighborhood of Lake Terrace, Emeril’s 50 year old, four bedroom, seven bathroom, 6700 square foot Provincial Style mansion sat on the market unsold for roughly a year and a half before finally selling at the bargain price of $1.4 million, down from an original list price of $1.6 million. With roughly 1500 square feet of the home reserved as “kitchen space”, featuring all top-of-the-line appliances and amenities, it’s been called a “Chef’s Paradise”, but has been criticized for low ceilings, boring and bland curb appeal, and possibly being located in a flood zone A (although it has never flooded). Emeril has since relocated to Destin, Florida as his permanent residence, but he regularly commutes to New Orleans to oversee four of his Crescent City restaurants, part of his total of 13 restaurants nationwide.
The Homes of Paul Prudhomme
Another Chef who rose to fame after becoming the Head Chef at Commander’s Palace in 1975, Chef Paul Prudhomme was world-renowned for Cajun and Creole foods. Chef Prudhomme passed away in October of 2015, but his legacy continues to this day through his brand of seasonings and spices, and series of eleven cookbooks. His former home, located in the Marginy neighborhood of NOLA sits not far from the Northern bank of the Mississippi River and just around the corner from the world famous New Orleans French Quarter. His personal residence at 527 Mandeville Street was a 1 bedroom, 1 bath, 2,688 single story Victorian home. Upon his passing, Chef Prudhomme had amassed a “compound” of six properties, including 4 single family residences, one home that has been used as his personal experimental kitchen, and one commercial property… all together totaling 10,288 square feet, and for sale at the bargain price of just under $3.4 million. According to one of Chef Prudhomme’s famous quotes, “You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food”, but you might have needed quite a few of them to buy his properties.
The Home of Jamie Shannon
Yet another famous New Orleans Celebrity Chef is the late Jamie Shannon, the Executive Chef at Commander’s Palace who, for 11 years, replaced Emeril Lagasse. Originally from the small town of Ferndale in Northern Washington, Jamie Shannon made New Orleans, and Commander’s Palace his home twice. Once as a Sous Chef, then, after a brief departure to Las Vegas, back again to take the helm a second and final time as the Executive Chef. While the address of Jamie’s home is not readily available, Jamie did live in the Garden District of New Orleans in a Victorian Style pool and garden home during his final years. His wife was an avid gardener, and he prided himself on using foods and ingredients in the restaurant that were local as much as possible, but not further away than 100 miles from New Orleans. Jamie Shannon passed away unexpectedly at the young age of 40 following a year’s battle with cancer.
The Home of Leah Chase
Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine”, Leah Chase is more than a chef. She is and has been a pioneer of racial equality all the way back through New Orleans’ 1950’s and ‘60’s Civil Rights Movements by welcoming, greeting, and feeding just about everyone who came through her doors. Married into the restaurant business, Leah and her husband, musician, Edgar “Dookie” Chase took over his parents’ home-based po-boy shack, turning it into “Dookie Chase”, a restaurant that has served just about every famous black American who’s ever been to New Orleans, including President Barack Obama, twice. Dookie Chase and Leah’s house are located in the Treme’, not just one of New Orleans’ oldest neighborhoods, but also considered the oldest African American neighborhood in the nation. Having spent her entire life right in the middle of it, Leah has received just about every culinary and civil rights award there is, and she’s also been invited to dine at the White House, twice. Dookie Chase has been known through history, and particularly during tense racial times, as a neutral ground, where blacks and whites could eat together without concern for race… all led by the hospitality, and food, of one Leah Chase. Despite the income she earns from her highly successful and beloved restaurant, Leah lives in a meager “Shotgun House” next door to Dookies. A Shotgun house is a specific style of house that is distinctly and widely recognized as exclusively New Orleans. Shotgun houses are long, narrow rectangular two or three bedroom homes that, traditionally, have one room leading directly into the next, without a hallway, from the front all the way to the back. Some Shotgun homes have doors separating the rooms, while others have none at all. It is believed the Shotgun style of home was brought to New Orleans by Haitian immigrants in the late 1700’s, seeking refuge from a resurgence of slavery in what is now modern day Haiti. The Haitian variety of Shotgun house was not just popular with migrating Haitians, but with Creoles as well. The Shotgun house works well in warm climates, where you only need open the front and back door to air out the entire house, but its design also creates a demand for interaction with each other, helping develop a strong sense of community in many poor neighborhoods where Shotgun houses were the primary style of home. Traditionally, a Shotgun home is not more than 12 feet wide, with three to five separate rooms from the front to the back of the house. Existing white and European cultures who had an established sense of personal privacy eventually modified the Shotgun house to have a hallway running straight down the middle, or all the way down one side. Either way, due to its inexpensive nature, Shotgun homes became one of the most popular varieties of home to build, not only in New Orleans, but through the entire South from about the 1860’s to the 1920’s. Older Shotgun homes can be as small as 300 square feet, but later and new construction models average up to about 1000 square feet. But back in the kitchen, cooking at 92, Leah can be found at Dookie Chase Tuesday through Friday, four days a week; closed Saturday through Monday. If you’re in New Orleans and aren’t far from the Mid-City or French Quarter areas, I suggest you make some time and stop in for a little taste of history.
Homes of Justin Wilson
My personal favorite New Orleans Chef, Justin Wilson, most famously known for his catch-phrase, “I ga-ron-tee!”, funny stories, and Cajun cuisine, passed away in September 2001 at the ripe old age of 87. Famous still today, an early TV cooking show personality, Justin Wilson was known just as much for his humor as he was for his cooking. As a kid, I learned much of my own Cajun food cooking from his popular Louisiana PBS cooking show, “Louisiana Cookin’”, and I always enjoyed the funny stories he would tell during the breaks. Many of these clips are still available on YouTube today and are always great to watch, although the accent and dialect can be a challenge for some. Credited by many as a legitimate Chef, Justin admitted that he was a “professional storyteller first, then maybe a good cook, but never a chef”… he would say “Paul Prudhomme is a Chef.” Not actually a New Orleans native, Justin Wilson, was born in Roseland, LA, just East of Baton Rouge, and was only technically “half-Cajun”. Despite his residential and ancestral origins, Chef Wilson was beloved and accepted as a great Cajun Chef throughout all of New Orleans, as well as the state of Louisiana and many cities across the country, including far away cities like Chicago. Most notoriously, however, Justin, for the last 9 years of his life, lived in one of the most interesting, and scandalous properties of all. Lost deep in the woods East of Mandeville, the Rankin House sat in partial ruins, incomplete, known to have been built with embezzled funds from jailed William G. Rankin, a member of Governor Huey P. Long’s late 1930’s widely corrupt administration. The original 11,000 square foot Modern Style mansion, known for clean, straight lines, lack of ornamentation, and streamlined appearance, sat incomplete and in partial ruin, hidden in the Mandeville woods for more than 30 years. When Justin bought it, he planned to use it as a home, as well as a film set for one of his cooking shows. The house was in such bad condition, Justin’s Wife, Jeannine Meeds, referred to it as a “shell with trees inside” as some of the rooms still had dirt floors and gaping holes where the windows were supposed to be.
Children were rumored to have played in the forgotten home for decades, as well as the occasional criminal looking for a temporary hideout. In ’89, the Wilson’s moved into the Caretaker’s Cottage while the main home was renovated for occupancy. In ’92, Justin and his wife Jeannine officially moved into the 24 foot tall, 18,000 square foot home, which contained 12 rooms, six of which were bedrooms, two kitchens, a Grand Salon (where Justin’s show, “Louisiana Cooking: At Home”, was filmed for two series’), a spacious second-story living quarters with huge master suite, an even larger office, an elevator, and a basement. Rankin House was Justin Wilson’s last residence when he passed in 2001. More recently, the home was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, along with much of the surrounding mature timber; but to save the house a second time, Justin’s widow, Jeannine Meeds, bought a local sawmill and used masses of downed timber in the area to rebuild. The home now listed on the Louisiana Homes Register of Historic Places. When asked about the place, he said he loved it more than any other home he’d ever lived in… this, he ga-ron-teed.
Justin Wilson Shows How to Make Dirty Rice
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