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Pandemic Forces Famed New Orleans Restaurant To Close

NOEL KING, HOST:

A New Orleans institution is closing. K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen was a temple of Cajun cooking, but after COVID closures and restrictions, it won't reopen. Ian McNulty is on the line with me. He covers New Orleans dining and food culture. Good morning.

IAN MCNULTY: Good morning, Noel.

KING: Tell me about K-Paul's. Tell me about this restaurant.

MCNULTY: This is a restaurant that, in a city famous for restaurants, really stood out as one that sort of vaulted ahead of the ideas that people had for local cuisine in its time and made an impact on, really, the global restaurant scene, the global food world, the ripples of which still end up on your dinner plate today when you dine out in cities across America, not just in New Orleans or Louisiana.

KING: How do it manage to do that? I imagine that the food was real good. That's probably the simple answer. But what is Cajun cooking?

(LAUGHTER)

MCNULTY: Right. Well, you know, New Orleans has been famous as a food town, as a restaurant town, for a long time. And that was true before the chef of K-Paul's, Paul Prudhomme, came along. But, really, New Orleans and Louisiana food would never be the same after Paul Prudhomme. What he did was take the food of the Louisiana countryside and make it this worldwide obsession. He opened the door for exploring regional cooking, the American food traditions, through restaurants in a way - he put it on the same level as classic French cooking, classic Italian cooking. And, Noel, it didn't hurt a bit that he started with Louisiana cooking, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MCNULTY: This is the food of the Cajun bayou, the food of the Cajun prairie. This is the food of the great port city of New Orleans. He took that food and a lot of it was home cooking, a lot of it was home-style dishes that he had grown up with on a Cajun farm back in the day, and he transformed them for restaurants. He broke a lot of rules in - at the time. And he chased flavor. That's what the other chefs and admirers of him always said about him - he chased flavor. And what he came up with were dishes that tasted like Louisiana, like nowhere else, and that transmitted stories of this place. And that's why it had such an impact because you can see chefs doing that with their own regions, with their own traditions, around - really, around the country now.

KING: Taking their cues from him, that's a really interesting man with an interesting history. How did the restaurant go under? What happened?

MCNULTY: Well, COVID-19.

KING: Yeah.

MCNULTY: Paul Prudhomme passed away a few years ago in 2015. It was the closest thing to a culinary state funeral (laughter) we had seen in...

KING: Oh, wow.

MCNULTY: ...New Orleans up until that time, you know, joining some of the other great chefs of New Orleans. But he had left his restaurant in good shape with family owners, his niece and her husband. Her husband was the chef. He had cooked there since the very beginning - chef Paul Miller. And, you know, they were a renowned restaurant. But COVID comes in, flips the market upside down, and they didn't see a way forward. Frankly, they didn't see a way to continue the restaurant, not knowing how much longer the opening and closing, the opening and closing and the dire lack of tourism would last.

KING: Ian McNulty covers dining and food culture in New Orleans. Ian, thank you.

MCNULTY: Thanks so much, Noel.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH'S "VIDEOTAPE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.