Culinary Book Bonanza

The Collection of Master Chef Paul Prudhomme

You’re seated at the table of a great chef, about to take that first bite of the magnificent entrée before you. A glass of your favorite wine sparkles in the candlelight, its bouquet blending with the aroma of the beautiful food. You’re hungry, fork poised. But you hesitate, savoring the anticipation of the meal.

It’s like the moment before the opening of a holiday gift package you’re sure will hold that special item you’ve been longing for. Always exciting, worth the extra wait.

That’s how the staff at the John & Bonnie Boyd Hospitality & Culinary Library felt in early December as we contemplated the trove of holiday gifts we were about to open. Gifts in the form of 24 sealed boxes of books, graciously bequeathed to SoFAB by the family of Master Chef Paul Prudhomme.

The “first bite” took the form of breaking the seal of the first large box – allowing the unmistakable smell of old books to encircle us. But this  scent was special -- these were the tools of a chef, the aromas of a kitchen -- tinged with spice and herbs as their owner worked his kitchen magic. That first whiff heightened our excitement as the subsequent boxes spilled forth the chef’s vast, personal collection of cook books, menus, and memorabilia.

We immediately commenced our work:  organizing, sorting and cataloging the hundreds of items to make them available to Library patrons. The collection will reside as a unit at The Boyd Library, conveniently cataloged in the New Orleans Public Library system. Scholars and foodies alike can bear witness to the culinary evolution of one of our major stars in the kitchen and restaurant business.

In addition to scores of cookbooks, the collection includes menus, travel books, beverage coasters, bookmarks, restaurant business texts – even the occasional ticket stub. And most interesting are the notes and inscriptions from other renowned chefs and authors, which we’re also indexing. They definitely provide insight into Chef Paul's associations and accomplishments.  My personal favorite: a delightfully inscribed copy of American Gastronomy cookbook by colorful Chicago Chef Louis Szathmary, owner back in the 60s and 70s of renowned The Bakery Restaurant on the city’s north side. Himself an avid collector of fine art, books, vintage wines and bawdy tales enthusiastically shared with (occasionally shocked) diners, his inscription to Chef Paul reflects the bon temps shared by the two luminaries of their respective cities.

At the time of this writing, all the gift boxes have been unpacked and their contents shelved and informally shelf-listed. More will be written about the Prudhomme collection as it takes shape. Check back regularly for updates on what we're finding, and how you can dip into these treasures, too!

And thanks to Chef Paul (Missing you will be a tad easier with your books and notes now so near at hand.)

Cindy Williams, MLS