Wednesday, January 3, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 3, 2001

TV chef encourages his fans to 'kick it up a notch'

Louisville Courier-Journal

Emeril Lagasse loves to cook.

He loves to cook for his daughters, Jilly and Jessie. He loves to cook for his new wife, Alden. He loves to cook with schoolchildren. He loves to cook for America.

"Essence of Emeril," noon, weekdays, TV Food Network

"Emeril Live," 3 p.m. weekdays, TV Food Network

So he cooks.

One night at home when he wasn’t working, he cooked chicken soup and bolognese sauce with noodles (spaghetti with red sauce). "That’s the kind of great food I love," he says.

On his cable-TV shows "Emeril," he might be making cream and parsnip soup with potato crisps and bacon, or butternut squash ravioli. Find him online with scores of recipes, including beef brisket with onion powder, garlic powder and ketchup. Go to one of his restaurants, and you could get foie gras or shrimp with grits.

He’s lucky he loves it — because cooking with and for all these people keeps him "on the road about 50 percent of my life. I sleep about five hours a day."

And it keeps about 1,000 people on his payroll. "It’s a lot of responsibility," he says, and he’s always mindful of it. "It’s not a game; it’s a serious business."

Serious business, indeed.

Lagasse, married for the third time in May, is reported to be worth $3.2 million by Forbes.

The king of "kick it up a notch," the 41-year-old chef-turned TV personality didn’t start off a cooking prodigy. He was born to working-class parents in Fall River, Mass.

His dad was French-Canadian; his mother was Portuguese — and a good cook. Lagasse excelled in music in school (he was a percussionist) but went to work at age 12 in a Portuguese bakery making bread and pastry.

In the end, he choose cooking over music, turning down a music scholarship to work his way through the culinary program of Johnson & Wales University.

Like other aspiring chefs, Lagasse worked a little here, a little there. He went to France for a while, then returned to the United States for stints in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

After meeting Ella Brennan, owner of the famed Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, the then-26-year-old Lagasse was tapped to replace another larger-than-life cmhef, Paul Prudhomme. Lagasse worked at Commander’s for more than seven years before opening his own eponymous restaurant in New Orleans.

As a chef and owner of Emeril’s, he employed 33 people and drew kudos for his cooking even before the Television Food Network was conceived. Food & Wine magazine declared him one of the country’s best chefs in 1991, when he also was acclaimed the best chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation and Emeril’s was named restaurant of the year by Esquire magazine.

Then — BAM! — he hit the airwaves.

Lagasse now reaches out to average food enthusiasts, wannabe cooks and normal people.

"I have done (his show) since the inception of the network," he says. "I believed in the vision of the network. I wanted to make the (food) industry evolve and have fun doing that. My life is completely circled by food. I eat, sleep, drink every minute of the day."

Lagasse is indefatigable.

For a typical day in New Orleans, he will rise at 7:30 a.m. and "catch up with everybody." With six restaurants from Las Vegas to Orlando, Fla., Lagasse has a corporate chef — "I hate that word, corporate," he says — who is "connected with the hour-to-hour, day-to-day work" of the many chefs des cuisines.

His home base has a culinary library and a test kitchen for brainstorming and tasting. (Menus at his restaurants change seasonally, so there’s a lot of brainstorming.)

He meets with people who update those who update his Web site ( There are publishers, there are shows to plan, there’s the marketing team, there are visits to his local restaurants (NOLA and Delmonico’s, in addition to Emeril’s).

"Then I’ll get home at midnightish, one o’clockish, get something to eat, visit with the family, and get up and do it again," he says.

His travel schedule includes trips to New York, both for his shows and his appearances on ABC’s "Good Morning, America."

He travels to meet the winners of his best-pie competitions.

Charisma and culinary talent keep Lagasse at the top of a short list of food stars, a position that seems secure. All-Clad, an upscale cookware company, has just named a line of pots for him, and a line of spices called Emeril’s Original has just been released.

Lagasse has been on a nine-city book tour, and he doesn’t even have a new book. Fans line up by the hundreds — sometimes thousands — to meet him.

Lagasse disparages authors who visit only larger cities when they tour; he visits mid-size towns as well (and he’s been to Hawaii several times, with the Food Network and with the Kea Lani Hotel’s Grand Chefs on Tour program).

"I think people in those places cook too," says Lagasse.

"I’m running at a hard pace. There are things you gotta sacrifice to do that. There’s not a lot of normalcy, there’s not a lot of Let’s go to the opera tonight’ or Let’s go to the basketball game.’ "

He keeps it up because "I love people," he says. "You gotta want to make people happy."

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