NEW ORLEANS — If Paul Prudhomme is the king of New Orleans, K Hinrichs Prudhomme, his wife, was queen. After seven years of living with a rare, incurable form of cancer, she died on New Year's Eve at 48.
K chose to die as she had lived--at home with dignity, grace, and a smile on her face. She spent her final days planning the celebration. The wake was held on Monday night (when many restaurants are closed) so that the restaurateurs, cooks, waitresses, busboys and dishwashers who loved her would be able to attend.
And attend they did. The funeral home was flooded with a sea of white kitchen uniforms. Everybody who is anybody in the food business in Louisiana came. So did chefs and restaurateurs from all over the country, including Larry Forgione, Wolfgang Puck and Zarela Martinez.
The entire funeral home was set aside for the event, which was attended by more than 1,000 mourners. Room after room was filled with flowers from such varied mourners as the Walt Disney Co. and K-Paul's Japanese fans. Afterward, Paul stood for five hours greeting mourners.
K-Paul's staff served K's favorite foods--blackened ribs, macaroni and cheese with tomatoes, jambalaya, blackened Prime rib and chicken and dumplings--rushed in from the tented parking lot where they were cooked.
Family included not just her parents and three brothers and her husband's 10 surviving brothers and sisters, but all those who worked at K-Paul's over the past 13 years. Everyone who worked at the Maison du Puy hotel, where she and Paul met (K worked in the front, Paul in the kitchen), was also there, as was the staff of Commander's Palace.
K was an essential part of the team that opened K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in 1979 and set the world spinning to a Cajun beat. She could usually be found standing at the bar, calling the shots and passing out gold stars to those who finished their meals to her satisfaction. No wonder part of the funeral music was "My Way."
At the funeral, pianist Ron Cole, who played "Amazing Grace" at George Bush's inauguration, played "Jambalaya"--the song that was played every day as the restaurant opened. After the funeral, Paul led the procession in his cart, honking along with "Amazing Grace" and calling out in a strong voice "This one's for you, K!" Then "Jambalaya" was played again as the attendees stood, clapped in time and wept.