Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2014

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Q&A: Emeril Lagasse:

Bam! He makes people happier

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Leila Navidi

Chef Emeril Lagasse is opening his third restaurant on the Strip — Table 10 at the Palazzo. His others are Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House and Delmonico Steakhouse.

Emeril Lagasse will soon open his third restaurant on the Strip — Table 10 at the Palazzo.

The celebrity chef’s shows on the Food Network, “Essence of Emeril” and the recently canceled but still airing “Emeril Live,” reach more than 85 million homes daily. “Bam!” — his signature phrase, used whenever he wants to “kick a dish up a notch” by adding some extra seasoning — has become a national catchphrase.

Best known for his New Orleans-influenced cuisine, Lagasse is trained in several cooking disciplines and has honed his craft around the world. He learned the basics of cooking from his mother, Hilda, in his native Massachusetts and began his career as a teenager, working in a Portuguese bakery.

He has 10 restaurants — in New Orleans, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Fla., and Gulfport, Miss. He also founded the Emeril Lagasse Foundation to support and encourage programs creating developmental and educational opportunities for children.

Lagasse sat down recently to talk with the Las Vegas Sun about his career.

Do you still think of yourself as a chef first, or are you more of a celebrity?

Let’s see, I cooked last night and all day yesterday. I cooked the night before at the fish house (Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at the MGM Grand) and the day before that, I cooked here at the steakhouse (Delmonico’s at the Venetian) and then I was at the food show and then I cooked at Emeril’s (in New Orleans). So I’m just a cook. The whole foundation for me is food.

When you can dream about it and sleep about it and get up about it, my life and my family have just completely evolved about food and the food business. I guess the goal every day is just trying to make people a little bit happier when they leave than when they come in the front door.

How valuable is it to have vehicles like the Food Network and PBS to provide exposure?

Well, as Carol Burnett said, “Exposure, my son, is everything.” So I think the Food Network, PBS as well and now for the last several years you’ve got Bravo, the Discovery Channel, etc.

I think those food programs have brought just incredible awareness to what food really is, where it comes from, how it’s raised.

I just hope that they continue to keep the fun of educating consumers in food and wine and travel and dining and not go off the ladder into this reality thing like the world has gone into. I’m so tired of this reality crap, they ought to come live with me for a day, or you, if they want to know about reality — they don’t have to go to Hollywood.

Your signature phrase, “Bam!” — where did that come from?

We will begin our 13th year of production of “Essence of Emeril.” In the early days of “Essence of Emeril,” because of my restaurant schedule, I was shooting eight shows a day, which is unheard of in television. Being a food show and being me, I always kicked it up a notch, which means I would always elevate the spice level or the complexity of a particular dish. So, it was always like we’re going to kick this up a little bit.

“Bam!” came from being a food show doing four or five shows, then taking a break, having the crew come back on a very full stomach because we were a food show.

I was losing people. There was no audience, so there’s maybe five cameras and a stage manager and me in the studio. All of a sudden after lunch, Camera Two guy is kind of (nodding off). “Bam!” came from, “Oh, I finally got your attention.” That’s the truth.

How would you describe your cuisine?

I have a lot of influences. I’m American-schooled. I’m classically trained. I’m a pretty universal student, if you will. I have a lot of degrees, which really don’t pay the rent. I have two doctorate degrees, I have a bachelor’s degree, but I’m still a cook. So my food is Louisiana, New Orleans-based, well-seasoned, rustic. I think it’s pretty unique because of my background being influenced by my mom, Portuguese and French Canadian. There’s a lot going on there.

What can you tell me about Table 10, your new restaurant at Palazzo?

Table 10 is pretty special to me. At the original Emeril’s, now 18 years later, Table 10 was the first table behind the maitre d’ stand at the entrance of Emeril’s — and still is today, by the way. So after working all day, all night, Table 10 became sort of my sanctuary, if you will. It’s where I had dinner every night, where I would mentor people ... or not. Where I would write menus, write specials, where I would dream. Where I would write wine menus and taste wine.

Unlike a lot of restaurateurs’ sommeliers, whose purveyors come in the middle of the afternoon to taste wine, I can’t do that. I have another whole dinner shift that I have to cook behind a hot stove. So that’s where I did it and that’s where I sort of dreamed about the future. That’s where (my second restaurant) NOLA was discussed and thought about and dreamed about, and Las Vegas, (opening) our third restaurant, at the MGM, was dreamed about. People were interviewed there. We moved eight people from New Orleans here, and that’s where we discussed whether they wanted to make the move, etc.

Table 10 is really the evolution of Emeril and the evolution of Emeril’s restaurants for the past 18 years. And some of those key notes from Table 10 are my connection with the soil, not because it’s a cool thing right now, because I’ve been connected for 25 or 30 years with the soil. Whether it’s with grapes or hogs or quail (or) sweet corn, Table 10 is going to be about American products. Not necessarily the techniques of strictly American foods, because there are influences in this evolution that really mean something to me. There’s a dish on the menu called Miso Cod that’s not very American really, but it means something to me.

We have a gigantic rotisserie because I think it’s an art form of cooking that has been lost in American cuisine. These days it’s much easier to just put up a pizza oven or a panini machine and have everything come out of that.

There’s an art, there’s a skill to doing rotisserie. We will use American products like kurobuta pork loins that will be rotisserie. (The dishes are influenced by) people that I have a connection with over the years that have meant something in what they’ve added to American cuisine. Of course, our philosophy is everything from scratch, so everything from homemade Worcestershire sauce to ice creams will be from scratch. So in a condensed version, that’s what Table 10 is.

Is it strictly going to be just American driven? No. But the heavy accents and influences that I think the customer will feel, not only from being in the space and feeling the vibrancy of the space, but the tones and accents of the space will certainly complement the ingredients and techniques of what is my background, which I’m proud to say is American.

Do you think American food has taken its place among the great cuisines of the world?

It has. You know, in 1975 I couldn’t get a job in New York City because I was American. The kitchens were predominantly run by French, Swiss, German, and basically I got laughed at. I had education, I had experience, but got laughed at because I was American. Americans at that time really didn’t know anything about cuisine. They knew about hamburgers and hot dogs and macaroni and cheese and really were not even thought of in the world of cuisine.

It kind of bothered me. So I went to France and did a few stagiaires (apprenticeships) there and came back. And all of a sudden, because I did that and could speak very little French, then I could get a job. That aside, I think that, finally, several years ago we have now come to the top where we have as good a food products, we have as great a wines being produced, and we have as great a chefs and restaurateurs in this country now as any place in the world.

I’m very proud to be a part of that. I’m proud to be particularly in such a food town as New Orleans that has a 200-year tradition of incredible cuisine — one of the grand cuisines of America. Just to compete in that marketplace is one thing and to be a leader in that marketplace, I’m very proud of that.

What distinguishes Las Vegas?

What’s unique about Las Vegas, first of all, is the setting. Secondly, the people who live here are pretty unique people. They’re really good people. As much as people don’t think that Las Vegas is very community driven, it’s extremely community driven. Then you add 50 million visitors a year and that’s pretty impressive. I mean, who would have ever thought, in the middle of the desert, right?

What do you like to eat?

My mode kind of changes daily. I’m a very seasonal kind of guy. I guess it goes back to Table 10. It kind of goes back to my passion and love for the soil. If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I’d probably be a farmer or a grower, or whatever the cool name is. That’s probably what I would be doing.

— Another version of this story can be found in this week's In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Las Vegas Sun.

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