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This is paraphrased from JustinWilson.com. Son of a former Commissioner of Agriculture of Louisiana, Justin Wilson was educated as a safety engineer. While working as a warehouse examiner, he visited Cajun country frequently, picking up bits of Cajun folklore and humorous sayings along the way. Eventually, he became known as a good storyteller, and made a series of sucessful comedy recordings. His talent as a cook, along with his personality and showmanship got him a gig as a television chef, a job he has performed for the past 25 years.

Justin Wilson was a funny guy, immediately recognizable by his white hair and wondermous sayin’s. He was famous for starting his cooking show with, “How ya’ll are summore, I’m glad for you ta be seein’ me, I garontee!”. He always wore red suspenders and a red belt, which he said was due to his former career as a safety engineer. But his most endearing feature was his gloriously convoluted syntax, his lyrical and melodic phrasing. Although some critics accused him of being barely literate and not very bright as well as being only half Cajun, he was amusing and grandfatherly, kindly and homespun and probably a damn good cook.

I used to watch him on his PBS cooking show, warm myself with his television presence, his massive dashes of Tobasco, the little hip jiggle he would do every time he used a whisk. His stories, his perfect eyeballing of ingredients which always turned out to measure up exactly. The way he would kick back at some little dining table to eat his turtle soup, alligator, crawfish, or gumbo. He would say, “People always wanna know, Joos-tain, w’at kinna wine go wit w’at? Well, Ah say, da kinna wine you like!” He would taste the food he made, smack his lips and let out a “Wha-hooooo, that’s jest raght.” Then he might bounce his knees, or kick his leg out from under the table and shake it with a “mmmm, mmmm, MMMMM.” So that even though I never tasted alligator, never sucked a crawfish head, never salivated over turtle soup, he made it seem like I had.

He always told stories, Cajun stories he had learned and saved up from his travels up and down the bayou during his previous career. When he put out an album of these stories it sold a million copies. He went on to make twenty-seven albums, including a Christmas collection with a jazz band. He was a prominent after dinner speaker, author of several cookbooks, instructor on human relations for four police academies and did a radio commentary on current affairs. His cooking shows aired on PBS, Louisiana Cookin’ and Easy Cooking. He never used a script or edited out the mistakes. He composed the background music for his shows and even put out an album, Bayou Serenade, which included ten love songs he wrote and sung himself.

He learned how to cook from his Louisiana French mother. Of her improvisational skills he notes, “She’d cook a dish and we’d go ‘Mama, w’ats this here, hanh?’ and she’d say, ‘Children, that’s a mus-go. It mus’ go down yo’ troat’ "

He died in Baton Rouge on Wednesday, September 5th, 2001. I was passing the TV when the newscaster announced it, and I spun around, surprised by my own immediate tears. He was 87, which is a nice old age. He was all about hot sauce, wine, food and humor, all the things I had always thought would “garontee” immortality.

How sad does it make me that he is no longer kicking around this earth? Well, as Justin always said when asked to quantify personal taste, How long is a piece of string?

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