Mary Tutwiler

Chef Alex Patout returns to Acadiana

by Mary Tutwiler

If you’ve eaten at Cafe Vermilionville recently, you might have noticed a subtle shift in the menu. Dishes that speak of grandma’s kitchen and black pot cooking have been appearing on the historic restaurant’s white tablecloths. The last of summer’s fresh corn is being turned into macquechoux, straight from the cob. Eggplant dressing rich with shrimp and lump crabmeat is what’s for lunch. And for all you fans of legendary dishes, the roast duck made famous at Didee’s in the 1970s in Opelousas is about to make a star return. The man behind the copper skillets? New Iberia chef Alex Patout, who is back in Acadiana after an absence of nearly 20 years.

Patout and his sister Gigi ran Patout’s in New Iberia in the 1980s. A mecca for his innovative take on local ingredients that have become standards, like the crawfish and tasso cream sauce reduction over pasta, Patout was launched onto the national stage. He opened two restaurants in New Orleans in the late 1980s, Alex Patout’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter and a sister establishment in Mandeville. Patout suffered a fire in Mandeville, then, after he rebuilt, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 wiped out his businesses. He spent some time at the tony Christabelle’s Quarter in Coconut Grove, Miami, but Louisiana’s pull proved too strong and he returned to Acadiana at the first of the year. By June, he was working for Ken Veron at Cafe V. Two weeks ago, he was named executive chef.

“My mission is to make Cafe Vermilionville into one of the fine dining experiences in Acadiana,” says Patout. “But I want to do it through the experience of authentic Cajun heritage dishes.” He makes crawfish bisque the way his grandmother did — by boiling the crawfish, cleaning out the heads and stuffing them, brewing the deep brown broth stocked with a pond’s worth of tails and serving the soup as the grandest of old school dishes. Right now, redfish are running in the bay, and Patout has a country Cajun dish, Redfish Courtboullion, on his menu. The twist? Instead of serving the fish in chunks in a tomato based stew, he is baking his fresh fish in the sauce, then garnishing the dish with shrimp and crabmeat, for a quintessential taste of summer. Look for oysters as soon as Gulf waters cool off; Patout is planning a showcase for Louisiana’s stellar bivalves, and hopefully, he'll drop some of them into his trademark duck and oyster gumbo. We can’t wait for the first cold snap, when it's gumbo weather in Acadiana. Welcome home, Alex.