Chef Paul Shows Big Easy Spirit

Paul Prudhomme knows all about comfort food.

The famous Cajun chef knows the comfort that comes from both the cooking and the eating. So when Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed New Orleans, Prudhomme began doing what he does best - dishing up great food.

Prudhomme and his staff from K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen have cooked about 8,000 meals for members of the National Guard, police, firefighters, government workers and volunteers over the past three weeks.

"We have been having a good time, and been cooking," Prudhomme told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "You ought to see their faces. It's a joy, an absolute joy."

He is positive the city is coming back.

"We have to come back," he said. "This is the city of America; this is a city with character. This is a city with people who love to entertain and cook. We have something here that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. We are going to take it back. One little storm ain't doing us no harm. We are taking it back, baby!"

After the evacuations, Prudhomme and Shawn McBride, president and chief executive of Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning Blends, returned from Pine Bluff, Ark., to find K-Paul's, Prudhomme's famous French Quarter restaurant, undamaged.

"The restaurant is closed," Prudome told Smith. "But today, we are seriously working on opening it, and hopefully by Monday or Tuesday, the restaurant will be cranking."

Amid the destruction and confusion following the storm, Prudhomme has been cooking at his Magic Seasoning Blends warehouse in Harrahan. He moved his kitchen, 10 burners, giant stock pots, pans, and equipment there.

"Anybody out there who needs magic, we got plenty of it," he said. His biggest concern now is getting more than 100 employees back to work and getting housing for those affected.

"If you want a great job, now is the time to come to New Orleans," he said. "We are setting up housing, doing everything we can to take care of people when they get here. So come on down."

Prudhomme told the Associated Press he and his staff cooked for 300 people in tuxedos the Saturday before the monster storm hit. The Sunday after Katrina hit, they cooked for 1,200 people in National Guard uniforms.

Credited with starting the Cajun food craze with his blackened redfish, seafood, gumbo and bread pudding, Prudhomme's cooking interest these days goes far beyond his boyhood recipes.

"I've discovered a lot more of the world," Prudhomme said. "My seasonings are sold in 35 countries. I've been to them all, and I take cooking lessons wherever we go."

These days, his food is as likely to be flavored with ginger, wasabi or teriyaki, as with Cajun spices.

"It's all about the flavor," he said.

More than Prudhomme's dishes have changed. When he turned 55, Prudhomme decided he had to lose weight.

Now 65, Prudhomme has slimmed down from 560 pounds to just 220.

"I eat everything," he said. "Just not as much of it."

To The Early Show viewers, he said goodbye with these words: "Good cooking, good eating, good lovin'. We love you guys."