**Update 11/07/2005** For more on Austin Leslie see our Great Chefs of New Orleans Tribute to Austin Leslie.
Bad news for fans of New Orleans Food, Soul Food, and Food in general, Chef Austin Leslie has passed away in Atlanta, Georgia, while on refuge from Hurricane Katrina. This sad loss is made worse knowing that Chef Leslie died when his home town of New Orleans was in such peril, and unable to do what he loved most, and did best; cook.
Chef Austin Leslie’s career was at its pinnacle when he was at Chez Hélène in the 1980’s, in fact, he and Chez Hélène were the inspiration for the sitcom Frank’s Place during the same era.
After reading the sad news I opened my copy of Creole Feast to the chapter on Chef Leslie, pictured confident, and smiling brightly in his younger years, in the midst of deboning a chicken, no doubt readying it for the fryer which he knew so well.
Sorry to share more bad New Orleans news, lord knows there has been enough lately. Fried Chicken for me tomorrow. Here are some notes from the late, great Chef Austin Leslie on Frying Chicken from the book Creole Feast:
The first time I cut up a chicken I was working at Portia’s. The chef there , Bill Turner, asked me where I learned how to do it. I said I learned from my mother at home. He taught me how to get twelve pieces from a whole chicken; my mother was able to get thirteen pieces from the same chicken because she broke the back into two parts. I learned all about fried chicken from Bill Turner, too. It’s the easiest job in the kitchen. You can tell by the sound when fried chicken is done. If you listen to it, you can hear how the sound of the grease crackling in the fryer changes. Then you know it’s time to bring it up. I never cook it well done; I never cook any meat well done. What I do is take the blood out of it first-while the chicken is frying, take a pair of tongs and squeeze each piece. Squeeze it till it bursts to let the blood out. You can look right down there by the bone and see if there is any blood there. When it’s ready the chicken will float to the top, a part of it will stick up. Then you take it and check it over. If you cook it properly you can keep your guests or customers from ever seeing any blood. That’s what they object to, when they prefer well-done meat-not the taste, but the blood.
Rest in Peace Chef Leslie, you’ll always be in our hearts.
My good friend, Texas Chef Bill Moran and I have been planning to colaborate on a Great Chefs of New Orleans piece once a month or more, Chef Leslie was definately on the list and still is. We want to concentrate on some of the Chefs from the past, that were busting out phenomenal food before Chefs were famous like rock stars. Great Chefs like Austin Leslie, Louis Evans, Warren Leruth, and Leah Chase, as well as many, many others. We will do a bio and a recipe that each Chef is most famous for, for instance, Chef Leruth’s Oyster Artichoke Soup, and Chef Leslie’s Fried Chicken. We’re really looking forward to it.