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  • Writer's pictureTommy Centola

Recipes in memory of Chef Austin Leslie

Hurricane Katrina changed many lives. I would not be writing this piece for you if Katrina had not facilitated my move here to Searcy. Many restaurants closed permanently due to the storm. One of the great chefs who lost his life because of Katrina was Austin Leslie.

Chef Austin defined Creole Soul. His menu at Chez Helene was a mixture of 5-star cuisine and down home cooking. Rarely would you find Oysters Rockefeller on the same menu as Fried Chicken, with both being prepared with the same pride and care. Always wearing his captain’s cap, he was known as the Godfather of Fried Chicken. The setting for the television show Frank’s Place was based on Chez Helene as was the character, Big Arthur, was based on Austin. Many tourist found their way to Chez Helene. Unfortunately, a decline in the neighborhood caused its closure. So today, I am sharing three recipes to honor Chef Austin Leslie, Hush Puppies, Fried Chicken and 7-UP cake.

Here is a southern dish that many eat here in Arkansas. Austin made this recipe his own by adding garlic and sugar to his recipe. In New Orleans, we like a sweeter form of cornbread than what people in Arkansas are used to eating. If you wish, you can leave out these two ingredients.

Hush Puppies

3/4 cup All-purpose Flour

1 cup Yellow Cornmeal

4 teaspoons Baking Powder

1/2 teaspoon Salt

1/2 teaspoon Sugar

2 Eggs

3/4 cup Buttermilk

2 tablespoons Onions, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Garlic, minced

Cayenne pepper to taste

Oil for Deep Frying

Preheat fryer to 350℉.

Mix dry ingredients together in bowl. Add eggs and mix well. Next beat in buttermilk, onions, garlic and cayenne pepper. Form batter into small balls and deep fry until golden brown. Drain and serve immediately.

This is Austin’s signature dish. People would travel for miles for his chicken. He was hired as the fry cook at Jacques-Imo’s when they opened. It is still on their menu, Austin Leslie’s Fried Chicken.

Austin’s Fried Chicken

1 1/2 cups Peanut Oil for Frying

1-3 to 3 1/2 pound Fryer Chicken, cut up

Salt and Pepper

1 Egg, beaten lightly

1 cup Light Cream or Half & Half

1 cup Water

1/2 cup All-purpose Flour

Preheat oil in frying pan to about 350℉.

Wash chicken pieces under cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Make egg batter by combining egg, cream, water, salt and pepper. Dip pieces of chicken first in egg batter to coat and then in flour. Add chicken pieces to skillet, meatiest parts first. Do not crowd. Turn to brown on all sides. If oil pops, reduce flame. Cook until meat is tender and skin is crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes.

This dessert is one I would like to see on more restaurant dessert menus. Many restaurants buy desserts already made. While these products are good, they will never taste as good as homemade. Notice that there is no leavening agent in the recipe. The cake gets its height from the long creaming process. Feel free to glaze with your favorite flavors.

New Orleans’ 7-UP Cake

3 sticks Butter, at room temperature

5 large Eggs, at room temperature

3 cups Sugar

3 cups Cake Flour, sifted twice

3 tablespoons Lemon Extract

3/4 cup 7-UP, at room temperature

Shortening, for cake pan

Cake Flour, for cake pan

Bundt Pan

Preheat oven to 325℉.

Grease and flour Bundt Pan using shortening and cake flour. Beat butter by hand in mixing bowl for several minutes. Add sugar to butter, 1 cup at a time. Beat well after each addition. Continue beating butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, until each disappears in the mixture. Next, fold in flour, 1 cup at a time into the above mixture. Add lemon extract and 7-UP. Beat in lightly. Pour into prepared Bundt pan and bake on middle shelf of oven for 1 1/2 hours or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on cake rack for 1 hour, then unmold.

Austin Leslie was rescued from his roof two days after Katrina. The temperatures reached 98 degrees. He was evacuated to the Convention Center, briefly to Arkansas, then finally to Atlanta Georgia. He was admitted to a hospital on September 28, 2005 with a high fever. The next day, month after Katrina hit, he passed away due to a heart attack. Austin was honored by having the first Jazz Funeral to be held in New Orleans after the storm.

Fortunately, his recipes live on. If you want some great down home cooking, these recipes are sure to please.

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