Having multiple restaurants, cooking shows, product lines, cookbooks and a successful philanthropic foundation are just a few of the ventures celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse keeps under his toque. Through all of his enterprises, Lagasse’s dedication and passion for teaching and sharing knowledge are what keeps him tying on his apron each day. According to the Massachusetts-born, New Orleans transplant, what sets successful restaurateurs apart from the rest is the ability to listen to their diners. Anything else? Lagasse emphasizes “taste” as the most important tool for young chefs who enter his kitchen. Having been in the business for over three decades, this natural-born leader is definitely worth hearing out. Bam!
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR PATH FROM BEING A CHEF BEHIND THE SCENES AND IN THE KITCHEN TO BEING A WELL-KNOWN CHEF ON TELEVISION?
Emeril Lagasse: I never really looked at it that way. I just looked at it as an extension of the kitchen and that if I could touch one person a day to make them a little bit more knowledgeable about cooking or shopping or wine or spirits, then I could easily sleep at night and feel accomplished because I made a connection with a human being.
IS THAT HOW ALL YOUR CATCHPHRASES CAME TO BE? WERE YOU JUST TRYING TO RELATE TO YOUR AUDIENCE?
EL: Well I just always “kick things up a notch!” That refers back to what I was saying about tasting and seasoning. “Bam!” came up as an expression. Being a food cooking show, we were shooting eight shows a day. After three or four, you take a break and the crew wants to go to the table and try everything that we just cooked. We would come back after that break and everyone was kind of sleepy, one-eye-closed and yawning. “Bam!” came about to wake everybody up so that we could finish the day.
WHAT IS YOUR SECRET TO LONGEVITY AND STAYING RELEVANT IN SUCH A RAPIDLY CHANGING, EVOLVING FOOD SCENE?
EL: I think that I have a pretty solid foundation in the styles of cooking that I do. I try to get better every day. That’s my philosophy and I try to share it with my team as well. We’re going to get up today and we’re going to try a little bit harder than we did yesterday. I have a really simple philosophy when it comes to food. If people would try a little bit to understand the people of where they want to focus on, then they can understand the culture. And once they understand the people and the culture, then they can understand the food.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED IN THE KITCHEN?
EL: I was very young and I was sort of a tyrant, if you could believe that. I would rather do things my way instead of waiting for people to do as they were told. Long story short, we were having service one weekend. It was quite busy and I was kind of raising hell to get things done. [Ella Brennan, Lagasse’s mentor] handed me a little piece of paper and said, “When you have a chance later chef, read this. I just want you to know how I’m feeling.” She had written: “Tomorrow, please leave your ego at home.” I never forgot it. It put a different perspective on how I should really manage the kitchen. I started working on it from that day on.
WHY DO YOU THINK METROCOOKING DC AND OTHER SHOWS LIKE IT ARE IMPORTANT TO THE INDUSTRY AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO BE THE FACE OF THIS EVENT?
EL: I’m a big believer in mentoring and education and that’s one of the biggest reasons why I started on the Food Network way back when. I really feel that people want to learn about food, about cooking. We’ve gotten so competition based that we have forgotten about the magnet of what happens when we relate to people about cooking—whether it is something as basic as a roux or something more complex like bouillabaisse. I’m really excited about getting [to Washington, D.C.] and connecting with the people and cooking. Hopefully one person will leave the show having learned something.
This article appeared in the November 2018 issue of Washington Life magazine.
Visit www.metrocookingdc.com for schedule and ticket information. December 1-2 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.