By LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
January 05, 2006
In this case, if a government contract goes the way of Paul Prudhomme, the surprise will be a packet or two of the star chef's world-famous spice concoctions.
For soldiers who sometimes subsist on the prepackaged meals for weeks or months at a time, extra seasonings are supreme. Tiny Tabasco-sauce bottles tucked into MREs long have been a favorite in the field.
So the Army believes the pizza and barbecue varieties of Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning Blends could add some welcome zip to the troops' meals, as well as an unexpected taste from home from the man who helped spark America's Cajun-food craze with his signature "blackened" redfish and steak.
"It adds variety and variety is the spice of life," said Jeannette Kennedy, a food technologist at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. "If it allows them to enjoy their food more, they will eat more and that's the goal."
Some GIs already have given the unique seasonings - which Prudhomme concocted from a lifetime of experimenting with a variety of spices and herbs - a hearty "hoo-ah." Before any item can be included in an MRE it must be approved by a soldier taste-test.
It also must meet strict standards, including the ability to survive an airdrop intact and to remain "shelf stable" for three years at 80 degrees F. Suppliers also have to be able to ramp up production if needed.
The Army's Combat Feeding Directorate is on a constant mission to find new food items for the troops. Along with Prudhomme's packets, other additions could include meatballs with marinara sauce, chicken with dumplings, fried rice, Reese's Pieces and Wild Berry Skittles candies, green hot-pepper sauce and chunky peanut butter. Final selection awaits the completion of an official bidding process for items slated to debut in 2007.
Prudhomme went to the center in October to discuss procurement details, demonstrate his cooking and sample some of the other offerings. He pronounced the chicken surprisingly tender and moist, the Army said.
Kennedy said an MRE-project officer had approached Prudhomme about his seasoning packets and found the chef receptive. John McBride, vice president of sales for Prudhomme, said the company is enthusiastic about the opportunity to contribute to the happiness of GIs.
"We'd probably end up selling at cost" to the military, McBride said.
Prudhomme's famous K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans' French Quarter was back in operation with a skeleton staff about a month after the hurricane hit in August. Since the storm's immediate aftermath, Prudhomme and his workers have served more than 32,000 warm meals to police personnel, firefighters, National Guard troops and others helping the city repair and recover.
On his company's Web site - www.chefpaul.com - Prudhomme said he also is helping his employees rebuild their lives.
"Our responsibility in helping them rebuild is to provide them with a job that they can feel secure with and a shoulder to lean on for moral support and material assistance," the New Year's Eve open letter to "friends" says.
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