The culinary wonders of "real" Cajun cuisine have been lost to many unsuspecting consumers, bedazzled by the promise of a taste of Louisiana's proud aged art of cooking, only to be served a cheap imitation. Restaurants boasting a menu of cajun cooking have spread across the country enticing patrons to sample Louisiana's finest. The 'rub' (no pun intended) is that many of these preparations have evolved from a lack of experience and knowledge, with impostors serving overspiced, overpeppered, tongue-searing or burned food.
Hot does not make it Cajun; heavy pepper does not make it Cajun; overspicing and burning food does not make it Cajun. Many would-be lovers of this fine cuisine are missing out on a delicious culinary experience. Cajun food may not be subtle, but its ingredients work together releasing layers of tastes, extremely pleasing to the palate, causing your brain to ask for more...NOW! An explosion of flavor.
Pat Reagan, a land man (they lease land for oil drillers) from Lafayette, La., says, "It has gotten so bad that we see some places around here that have fallen into the trap of 'counterfeit' Cajun food, but they don't last long."
I spoke with Andrew Edelberg, a local attorney who represents restaurateurs and has a self-proclaimed love of food. He became very fond of several local establishments that served "Cajun" food. When asked if he thought the taste was authentic he proclaimed, "No, it rarely is when you take it out of its natural area; look at cheesesteaks, they can't reproduce the bread in other parts of the country, not without Philadelphia water." He said that the food he has had is tasty, but he has been told by friends who lived in New Orleans that it is not the same. He thinks that people have always wanted food that tastes good, and most of them liked the allure of the origin of the recipe but weren't very concerned with authenticity... that is, until recent years. He contends that with the popularity of food and cooking shows (and blogs) on television and the internet,"many people have been bitten by the food bug and have developed a deep appreciation, no, an affection, for food and its proper preparation, it's a respect thing."
My own love for Cajun food started when I moved to New Orleans to attend law school. Everything I tasted was so full of flavor that I immediately fell in love with Cajun and Creole foods. During my third year of law school I was fortunate to land a job waiting tables at the historic Commander's Palace, the much touted award-winning restaurant located in New Orleans' Garden District and owned by the Brennan family. I brought a lot of good food home to Nancy at that time (it pays to be polite to the chefs). The executive chef was the legendary Chef Paul Prudhomme, who has inspired many of today's celebrity chefs, not the least of whom is Emeril Lagasse, his successor at Commander's Palace. The restaurant and its chefs are an excellent subject for a future article; however, in this writer's life they had a profound effect on my appreciation for what an "artist" could do with food. Chef Prudhomme invented the "blackened" process around this time. It is probably one of the most poorly copied processes in Cajun cooking. I've enjoyed delicious blackened dishes such as redfish, from Chef Prudomme and other great southern Louisiana chefs, however, I've never had an even close to authentic blackened dish elsewhere. For some reason it always comes out on the plate burned or overseasoned.