Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
Paul C.P. McIlhenny, the chairman of the board and chief executive of the family-run company that produces the world-famous Tabasco brand pepper sauce, who was also known as an avid outdoorsman, conservationist and food and wine lover, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack. He was 68.
He was the sixth in a chain of direct descendants to run the company, created on Avery Island in southwest Louisiana in the 1860s. As chief executive since 1998, McIlhenny expanded the already-successful company’s reach worldwide. Tabasco products are now sold in more than 165 countries and marketed in 22 different languages.
One of his key areas of growth was product marketing, adding new flavors and concepts, as well as designing and marketing dozens of Tabasco-themed products, including everything from steak sauce and marinades to kitchenware and neckties.
Though born in Houston, McIlhenny grew up in New Orleans and had a home there as well as on Avery Island, where the family company is based.
In New Orleans, one of his more public roles came in 2006 when he reigned as King of Carnival, leading the Rex parade for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. Friends and colleagues lauded McIlhenny, a fun-spirited and jolly man, as the perfect choice for such an honor, at a critical time.
An avid outdoorsman and hunter, McIlhenny was also very active in coastal restoration and wetlands conservation efforts. He was appointed by then-Gov. Mike Foster to the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Restoration and Conservation, and later helped found the America’s Wetland Foundation. The group, whose logo is featured on every bottle of Tabasco honored him with a lifetime achievement award last year.
He was also a renowned gourmet and wine aficionado, named to the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverages” in 2010. He counted among his friends Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, Ella Brennan, Paul Prudhomme and Jacques Pepin, among many other chefs and food writers.
A co-author of a cookbook celebrating the 125th anniversary of Tabasco, he was also a member of La Société des Escargots Orléanais and the New Orleans Chapitre of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.
McIlhenny is survived by his wife, two daughters, a brother, sister and four grandchildren.