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How Emeril Lagasse 'Emerilized' New Orleans

The best lines from Garden & Gun’s profile on “the Big E”

Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival Presented By Coca-Cola - Grand Tasting presented by ShopRite featuring Samsung Culinary Demonstrations presented by MasterCard Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for NYCWFF

Television chefs are a dime a dozen, but few enjoy the kind of widespread influence and continued adoration as New Orleans legend and former Food Network fixture Emeril Lagasse. Unlike some of food TV’s other high-profile stars, Lagasse still lives and breathes restaurant life, with 13 restaurants across the country (including the recently opened Meril’s, his first new New Orleans project since 1998).

In a new profile for Garden & Gun, writer Brett Martin chronicles the 57-year-old’s rise from a Massachusetts-born New York cook to a television legend and a New Orleans culinary icon — and, perhaps above all, a serious restaurateur. Here now, the 12 best lines:

Martin on Emeril’s signature catchphrase: “In a warehouse space toward the back of the building, there are stacks of boxes marked ‘BAM.’ They turn out to contain T-shirts, but for a while I want to believe they are filled with pure distillations of laissez les bons temps rouler, to be opened as necessary.”

Lagasse on opening his newest restaurant, Meril: “It’s a new baby. So, day one will be different than week one. And week one will be different than month one, because it really is like having a baby. It’s like nurturing something that comes alive.

Martin on how food TV has changed since the Emeril era: “Emeril Live, his prime-time variety cooking show, has barely been off the air six years but, thanks in part to the morass of travel and competition shows that food television has become, it feels like another epoch.”

Martin on Emeril’s almost unspeakably broad influence on the culinary world: “His influence, on both what chefs serve and how they live, is so pervasive that reasonable people could disagree about whether it’s all been to the good. He’s there equally in Anthony Bourdain and in Guy Fieri; in the knockout flavors of a Momofuku pork bun; and in every Jack Daniel’s–glazed steak served at T.G.I. Fridays.”

Martin on Emeril’s love of educating his staff: “Lagasse was a zealous teacher. One day, he dragged a whole Costa Rican palm tree to the predinner staff meeting, to show cooks and servers where hearts of palm came from.”

John T. Edge on the advantages Emeril had as a NOLA outsider: “It’s like he was a tourist who had fallen in love with all the things about New Orleans that every tourist falls in love with. He was able to channel the feeling of that frenzy of discovery.”

Martin on Massachussetts-born Emeril making a name for himself with Louisiana cuisine: “In the same way that the best writing about New York has always come from writers born below the Mason-Dixon Line, it took a son of Fall River to create what his first cookbook succinctly labeled New New Orleans Cooking.”

Martin on Emeril’s brief foray into the world of sitcoms: “The behind-the-scenes struggles on NBC’s short-lived sitcom Emeril—starring Emeril and about, well, Emeril—were high profile enough to be the subject of a Saturday Night Live parody. (Fifteen years later, the show, much of which is watchable on YouTube, proves to be no better but also not much worse than much of what else was on network TV in 2001.)”

Emeril on coping with the end of Emeril Live, which ended in 2010 after 11 seasons: “It was a very empty feeling for me: ‘You mean I’m not going to wake up and shoot two shows a day?’”

Martin on where Emeril draws the line on his culinary influences: “Lagasse recently spent time with the legendary molecular gastronomist Ferran Adrià, but you should not expect to see étouffée foam or other trickery on an Emeril menu anytime soon. ‘Are you kidding me?’ he says. ‘My people don’t want that.’”

Martin on how Emeril’s first restaurant manages to straddle the line between throwback and current: “In many ways, the flagship restaurant is an amber-preserved artifact of nineties dining and an over-the-top Bamsplosion...At the same time, it is capable of being a nimble modern Southern restaurant.”

Emeril on giving his chefs room to experiment — within reason: “First of all, we’re not using customers as guinea pigs. Don’t be trying crazy shit like trout with blueberry sauce. Then: Solid ingredients. Solid cooking techniques. Price-value relationship. And it has to taste good or forget it. Don’t even think about it.”

The Big E: Emeril Lagasse [Garden & Gun]
Emeril Lagasse’s Secrets to Career Longevity [E]