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New Orleans Spices, Spicing Up Life and Cooking

AUDIE CORNISH reporting:

I'm Audie Cornish.

Here in New Orleans, whether you're cooking up jambalaya, nutria rat or the turkey, duck, chicken creation known as turducken, it's the spice, not the cooking, that makes a difference.

(Soundbite of bottling plant)

CORNISH: The bottling and shipping plant for Magic Seasoning Blends is probably the only place in the city where you'd be glad to see dozens of marked up plastic trash barrels. That's because these containers are filled to the hip with fennel seeds, basil, thyme and white pepper, oregano, cinnamon and more and not just any old spice will do.

Mr. PAUL PRUDHOMME (Chef): All herbs and spices are not equal. It's just like anything else in the world.

CORNISH: Just ask Louisiana restaurant owner and spice aficionado chef Paul Prudhomme. Today, a blood orange colored powder titled blackened red fish magic is whirling down the bottling line.

(Soundbite of bottling plant)

CORNISH: The smell of spices is so overpowering, your head turns with every waft of pizza, roast chicken, barbecue, reminders of the best meal you've ever had rolled into one. Prudhomme's concocted over 11,000 spice recipes over the last 20 years, and he doesn't get tired of the rich smells that permeate everything from the packing boxes to the company stationery.

Mr. PRUDHOMME: You know, I mean, there's very few things in the world that's so powerful that you can put a very, very, very, very small percentage in and it makes a huge difference, but herbs and spices do.

(Soundbite of bottling plant)

CORNISH: Each bottle is labeled with Prudhomme's smiling face. He calls his spice blends his children, and he says he feels for his fellow New Orleanians who may be displaced, trying to track down their favorite foods and seasonings and having tough luck.

Mr. PRUDHOMME: The question that I would ask--I mean: Do you have someone you love? Do you have someone that kisses you and you've been kissed before by other people and yet it don't feel the same? I mean, when you meet someone and you kiss them on the cheek, there's an emotion. When you kiss them on the lips and you're in love with them, there's an emotion. And there's a huge difference but it's the same thing. And that's the way herbs and spices are.

(Soundbite of bottling plant)

CORNISH: For now chef Paul Prudhomme is pulling for the city. He has high hopes that people will want to return to the home of the po'boy, muffaletta and jambalaya because it's still the people that are the most important ingredients of the city.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.