Cajuns Invented Fried Turkey, but Where in Acadiana Was It Done First?
Hey America, you're welcome.
As Cajuns, we know our way around the kitchen. As Cajuns, we're also pretty resourceful and innovative. When it comes to Thanksgiving, we haven't sat idly by and simply accepted how the rest of the country cooks their Thanksgiving meals. For many years, we've enjoyed delicious fried turkey here in South Louisiana.
It got me thinking, where did this tradition start? Could we really be responsible for bringing the world delicious fried turkey? You got that right!
Who Fried Turkeys First?
Vogue.com says that "Justin Wilson was the first person to publicly declare that he’d seen someone deep-fry a turkey back in the 1930s".
Unfortunately, Wilson didn't say exactly where in Acadiana he was when he saw it. In the late 70s, the height of Wilson's popularity, he was one of the only chefs in America frying turkeys.
Where Did Fried Turkey Originate?
It seems that the first official written record of turkey frying traces back to Church Point.
From seriouseats.com -
"In December 1982, Gary Taylor, a United Press International reporter, filed a dispatch from Church Point, a small town of about 4,500 people in southwest Louisiana. 'A few daring cooks' he reported, 'have developed a new way to prepare a holiday turkey. They deep fry it—whole.'"
Interestingly, there's an article that also appeared in the Baton Rouge Times-Picayune the same year, specifically crediting a man by the name of Charlie Gant for being the first person to fry a turkey.
From wikipedia.org -
"Deep-fried turkeys first appeared in the Baton Rouge Times-Picayune and in articles written for the Food sections of the Baton Rouge Advocate/States Times, which were attributed to Charlie Gant and two other Cajun friends. Gant said they were sitting around with their crawfish pots after a cochon de lait and wondered what to do with their excess pig lard that would spoil in the Louisiana heat. They came up with deep-fried turkeys after trying chickens. Later, because lard spoiled easily, they switched to peanut oil."
Unfortunately, more information isn't given pinpointing a date, or location Charlie Gant and his friends fried those turkeys.
It could well have been in Church Point in 1982.
According to seriouseats.com, there was also a chef in New Orleans credited with frying turkeys dating back to 1982 as well.
Doing a bit of research I found out that New Orleans was "Chef Jim Chehardy, then-general manager of the Landmark Hotel in the French Quarter" according to NOLA.com.
In 1984, the Times-Picayune food editor Dale Curry wrote an article about Chef Jim Chehardy's fried turkey. This 1984 Times-Picayune article is widely believed to have jumpstarted the fried turkey craze.
According to Curry, Chef Jim Chehardy "said he’d been introduced to in the early 1980s by friends in Lafayette and New Iberia".
So, now we've got Church Point, Lafayette, and New Iberia being credited as the originators of fried turkey.
Before this becomes a heated debate, let's just agree that fried turkey was invented in Acadiana.
So as we fry up our turkeys this Thanksgiving, we can take pride in knowing that we changed this holiday for the entire country!