Sometime in the late 70s or early 80s, I made one of my first culinary discoveries — dirty rice. Popeye’s had come to town. I grew up with good food — my grandmothers were both excellent cooks — but dirty rice was a revelation.
Later, in the mid 90s, Copeland’s came to Knoxville, where I was living at the time. New Orleans was too far from Knoxville for an easy trip, but now crawfish étouffée was right across town.
The man who brought both these places into my life was Al Copeland. Copeland was an extraordinary businessman and even more extraordinary character. He was controversial too. He ultimately lost control of Popeye’s. He had interesting legal issues. And, most fun of all, he really pissed off his neighbors with his massive display of Christmas lights.
Al Copeland died yesterday at age 64 of cancer. Diet or no diet, we stopped at Popeye’s on the way home. Dinner tonight was spicy fried chicken, mashed potatoes with Cajun gravy, red beans and rice, and, of course, dirty rice. Yes, it was fast food, but it opened new doors for me. Farewell, Al. And thanks.