Emeril Lagasse is the embodiment of the spirit of Louisiana’s new garde chefs, and the food at his New Orleans restaurants, Emeril’s, NOLA, and Delmonico’s, is at the very apex of the new culinary style. He calls his food “New Orleans cuisine”. Critics call it, and him, top notch. He was the face of the Food Channel, and was named one of the top chefs in the country by Food & Wine, to Who’s Who of Cooking in America by Cook’s magazine, Best Southeast Regional Chef by the James Beard Foundation, and Distinguished Visiting Chef at his Alma Mater, Johnson & Wales University in Providence, among a slew of other honors. Emeril’s has been named Restaurant of the Year by Esquire, and won an Ivy Award from Restaurants & Institutions magazine. His cookbooks also receive critical acclaim. But it is Emeril himself, with his outgoing personality and ability to explain his art, who is the real star.
Lagasse’s background is down to earth, which is where he stands feet firmly planted despite international fame. He grew up in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts. His mother was Portuguese and his father French-Canadian. Food and the family dinner table were central to his life. In childhood, Lagasse worked at a local Portuguese bakery, and as a teen he turned down a music scholarship in order to work his way through the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University, from which he holds a doctorate degree.
After polishing his cooking skills in France, at Paris and Lyon, he returned to the States and cooked in fine restaurants in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. He was offered the position as head chef at Ella and Dick Brennan’s historic Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, following in the footsteps of Chef Paul Prudhomme. During his seven-and-a-half years there, he lightened and brightened the menu.
It was while he was chef at Commander’s that Emeril was first asked to participate in Great Chefs, taping segments for their first one-hour special, Great Chefs, An International Holiday Table. He prepared his favorite Portuguese holiday fare like kale soup, and tuna in Portuguese sauce. It was his first experience with national television.
A few months later, he prepared oyster patties, pickled pork hash with red bean sauce, and a banana cobbler for another Great Chefs special, A New Orleans Jazz Brunch, a concept that the Brennan family had started. In 1990, Lagasse opened Emeril’s Restaurant in a deserted New Orleans warehouse district, which struggled. In 1992, Great Chefs included Emeril in their latest television series, The Louisiana New Garde, that featured up and coming New Orleans chefs. Shortly after that, one of the Great Chefs partners called to ask if he would like to participate in a cooking series on the Nashville Network with Florence Henderson. Later that year, the Food Network called, and the rest is history.
He opened NOLA in 1992, and later revived the classic Delmonico’s in New Orleans. He has since expanded his restaurant empire to Las Vegas and Orlando, and has cooking products around the world.