Alex Patout was born in the food business. The Jeanerette clinic where he came into the world was right upstairs from his grandpa’s Main Street store, Pop Bolner’s Grocery. Patout grew up playing between the sacks of coffee and cornmeal in the store and eating the crawfish étouffée and bisque his uncle Gerald and dad, Gene Patout, cooked for their New Iberia restaurant in the historic Frederick Hotel. “I didn’t know it was anything special,” Patout says of his childhood meals. “Gumbo was just what we ate at home.”
Fortunately for the food world, Patout’s home-schooled cooking education translated into a series of restaurants, accolades, awards and a cookbook that launched him into the national consciousness. By the early 1980s, Cajun was cool with Patout one of the hottest new chefs in the country. From his base, Patout’s in New Iberia, to French Quarter and Northshore destination restaurants, he brought a style of Cajun country cooking to an audience hungry for the twists on flavor he could execute with crawfish, tasso, eggplant and duck.
The Iberia Parish native has been cooking in exile for more than 20 years, but four months ago, he found his way home, to the kitchen of Lafayette’s Café Vermilionville. His mission is to infuse Café V’s haute menu with more Cajun-inspired cooking, harmoniously wedding the best Acadiana has to offer with the tenets of fine dining. Imagine authentic crawfish bisque, country braised duck and seafood rich eggplant dressing, paired with a glass of fine white burgundy or vintage bordeaux, served in the elegant garden room of the renovated 18th century inn. It’s a concept Lafayette has been lacking. Patout and Café V intend to fill the void.
At the beginning of his career, Patout had no intention of becoming a chef. He was a business major at UL Lafayette in the mid-1970s. “What got me interested in cooking,” he says, “is when I’d bring my friends home and how blown away they were by my mom and dad’s food.” He hadn’t even paid much attention to all the cooking going on around him. So when he decided to open a restaurant, he had to learn how to cook. And he went about it backwards. “The concept I actually knew was what the dishes should taste like. What I had to figure out was how to take something that my momma would cook for four hours and put it into a commercial setting — bring it to the peak of flavor and get it out in 10 to 15 minutes.”
Patout and his sister, Gigi, opened Patout’s on Nov. 3, 1979, in New Iberia. There was nothing like it in the area, where local restaurant menus were dominated by fried and boiled seafood. Patout took flavors in unexpected directions. He reduced heavy cream to the consistency of molasses, then flavored it with chunks of tasso and crawfish tails, tossing the sauce over pasta. His eggplant pirogue was stuffed with eggplant dressing loaded with lump crabmeat and shrimp. The Ladyfish, a Patout signature dish, was fresh redfish from Vermilion Bay, in a delicate lemon butter sauce with lump crabmeat. Most dishes were invigorated with a healthy dose of cayenne pepper, enough to make Cajun palates happy.
Patout’s drew diners from all over Acadiana, but what happened next was totally unexpected. Paul Prudhomme and his French Quarter restaurant, K-Paul’s, had become the darling of the national food scene, and food writers from bi-coastal newspapers and slick magazines descended on New Orleans. Prudhomme fed them his city version of Cajun cooking, then sent them to the country, to eat at Patout’s. Alex took big city food writers on a tour of Cajun country, showing them his larder: shrimp docks, oyster luggers, smokehouses and truck farms. He was featured in food sections from Los Angeles to New York. By 1984 he was named one of the “Best of the New Generation” by Esquire. “I was on the page right between Meryl Streep and Julius Erving,” he says. The same year, Food and Wine tapped him, along with Emeril Lagasse, as one of the Ten Top New Chefs in the country. Random House commissioned a cookbook. The next year, he opened Patout’s in the Maison St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans. By 1988 he had a stand alone restaurant, Alex Patout’s Louisiana Restaurant, on Royal Street in the French Quarter.
Everything was going along swimmingly until the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001. “Business slowed down tremendously,” says Patout. In 2002, he moved into another building, across St. Louis from Antoine’s but wasn’t happy with the location. Simultaneously, he opened a second restaurant in a historic building in old Mandeville. Within six months it burned down; Patout rebuilt, but then Katrina hit in August 2005, shuttering both restaurants. Patout found himself working as a chef in Christabelle’s Quarter in Coconut Grove, Miami, but his heart wasn’t in it. He moved back home to New Iberia and started looking for a job.
This summer he hooked up with Café V owner Ken Veron, and within four months became the executive chef. “My mission is to make Café Vermilionville into one of the finest dining experiences in Acadiana,” says Patout. “But I want to do it through the experience of authentic Cajun heritage dishes.” Patout has been working with the menu, edging country dishes in between the Filet au Poive and the Veal Marsala. He put a classic shrimp remoulade back on the appetizer menu and makes crawfish bisque the way his grandmother did — by boiling the crawfish, cleaning out the heads and stuffing them, brewing the deep brown broth stocked with a pond’s worth of tails and serving the soup as the grandest of old school dishes. His seafood loaded eggplant dressing, fresh soft shell crabs napped with tasso cream sauce, grilled fish topped with jumbo lump crabmeat in a sauce enriched with crabfat, and a dish locals have been pining for since Didee’s in Opelousas closed down — the slow braised duck — are all starring on Café V’s menu. Patout is also planning a showcase for Louisiana’s stellar oysters.
“I feel blessed that everything worked out,” says Patout. So do we.
JUNE 19 Former Saint Steve Gleason, who is paralyzed by ALS, released a statement Tuesday in response to the Atlanta radio station's skit making fun of him and the disease, this Picayune post reports. What did he say? He said he'd accepted the apology of the DJs who did it, notes that at least the incident has got people talking about ALS, and asks anyone who is burning to take action about it to do so -- by helping him fight ALS.
JUNE 19 Blogger Ian McGibboney takes a look at the Gleason incident in this post. He makes a good argument about the difference between having free speech and being free from consequences for your speech (which none of us is). He also admits that many of us got upset before we listened to the skit -- but lets us know that the reality is far worse than we can imagine. It was the incredibly bad judgment, even more than the actual speech, that probably got those DJs fired, he opines.
JUNE 19 Washington Post blogger Aaron Blake writes about Sen. Guillory's switch to the GOP in this post. He writes what most political watchers in Louisiana know: Guillory was a Republican before he decided to run for the senate seat in a mostly-D St. Landry district, and has switched back now that he plans to run for Lt. Gov. in a mostly-R state. But how come Blake missed Guillory's appearance on a TLC pageant show? Now that is a video we'd like to see. (Again).
JUNE 19 Here's another Washington Post blog post about a Louisiana politician, and it's just plain scathing. Ezra Klein says Jindal's Politico post was "insulting" to the intelligence of voters, and adds that Jindal is personifying the "stupid" he's railed against, by being an "elite" who convinces GOP activists of "things that aren't true." Me-ow.
JUNE 19 Here's Gov. Jindal's post in Politico, in which he asks the GOP to get over losing to Obama (again) and stop "the bedwetting." (Uh, what?) He gives his Republican buddies what is probably a nerd's idea of a coach's motivational talk, which starts with a list of accomplishments that they can't seem to exploit and ending with an absurd description of liberals that sounds like a character treatment for a Fox "News" movie scripted by Gordon Liddy. Sure, he's preaching to the choir, but even the choir's not this gullible.
JUNE 19 Lamar Parmentel read Gov. Jindal's post on Politico, but thinks it was so dumb it probably was published in the wrong paper. This post by Lamar on the Daily Kingfish opines that possibly Jindal's post was destined for the Onion -- because the governor couldn't possibly be serious here. If you listen closely, you can hear the staff of the Kingfish giggling.
JUNE 19 Blogger Robert Mann posts from Turkey, a country he has visited several times in the past few years. Mann gives an interesting overview of the current political and societal climate of the country, which -- if you're living under a rock and don't know -- is experiencing protests and turmoil these days. Mann promises to post as much as he can during his trip, which should be fascinating reading.
JUNE 19 Blogger CB Forgotston says the legislature is keeping the vicious cycle going with its funding of new buildings for the community college/technical college system. Universities across the state need maintenance and improvement on existing buildings, and the solution is to build new buildings at other schools? By the time the bonds are paid off, those buildings will be falling down, too, CB says.
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Frank’s Casing Crew, now doing business as Frank’s International, will make its final appearance on ABiz’s list of the Top 50 Privately Held Companies in Acadiana this year, and once again it will likely be at the top with more than $1 billion in annual revenues. The 75-year-old company specializing in tubular fabrication and installation services to the oil and gas industry plans to offer shares of its stock to the public for the first time.
The defeat, or rather highjacking of House Bill 420 in the final days of this year's Legislative Session, say Reps. Vincent Pierre and Terry Landry, is the result of the propaganda spread by one unidentified local media outlet and an unnamed former state Representative, but nothing to do with the original legislation's lack of checks, balances or details.
He’s a singer. A songwriter. A piano man. A family man. He’s even got his own Wikipedia entry. He’s David Egan. And he knows ancient secrets about the monolithic stones of Stonehenge that he’s not willing to share.