Chef, restaurateur, television personality. Born October 15, 1959, in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts, where he was raised by his French-Canadian father, Emeril Jr., and his Portuguese mother, Hilda. While working at a local Portuguese bakery, the teenaged Lagasse developed a penchant for cooking. In 1973, he enrolled in the culinary arts program at Diman Vocational High School. Also a talented percussionist, Lagasse led the high school drum squad, playing at dances, banquets, and numerous local religious festivals.
Upon his high school graduation, Lagasse was offered a full scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music, but decided to pursue a career as a professional chef. He spent the next year training at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. In order to pay his tuition, Lagasse took a job at a local restaurant, where he met fellow student Elizabeth Kief. The two married in October 1978, a few months after Lagasse completed his course work. Lagasse polished his skills in Paris and Lyon, France, before returning to the United States, where he spent the next few years working in fine restaurants throughout the Northeast.
In 1982, Lagasse replaced Paul Prudhomme as executive chef of the famed New Orleans restaurant Commander's Palace. This demanding position, which required Lagasse to work 18 hours a day, put a strain on his marriage. Lagasse and his wife divorced in 1986, at which time Elizabeth and their two children moved back to Massachusetts.
After seven and a half years at Commander's Palace, Lagasse opened his first restaurant, Emeril's, in 1990. Located in New Orleans's underdeveloped Warehouse District, the menu fused elements of French, Spanish, Caribbean, Asian, and Lagasse's native Portuguese cuisine. Immediately well received by patrons and critics, Emeril's was named Best New Restaurant of the Year by Esquire magazine. In 1992, riding on the heels of Emeril's success, Lagasse opened a second establishment, NOLA (an acronym for New Orleans, Louisiana). With its rustic cuisine and ornate décor, NOLA also garnered a positive reception from the culinary community.
In 1993, Lagasse published the bestselling cookbook Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking, which introduced his creative approach to Creole cuisine. Later that year, his growing popularity caught the eye of executives at cable television's fledgling Food Network. After two failed programs (How to Boil Water and Emeril & Friends), the 1995 series, Essence of Emeril, immediately struck a cord with viewers. The following year, Time magazine classified Essence of Emeril as one of the 10 best shows on television.
Using catch phrases like "Bam!" and "Kick it up a notch!" Lagasse showcased his personal cooking style and flair for the dramatic in his next TV project, Emeril Live! Featuring a live studio audience and a four-member band, the series catapulted Lagasse into a realm of celebrity rarely enjoyed by a chef. Capitalizing on the popularity of Emeril Live!, the Food Network took the show to cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, where Lagasse drew arena-sized crowds. In 2000, an episode filmed in Las Vegas featured a young couple taking their wedding vows while Lagasse stood by as best man. Although popular among viewers, many culinary writers denounced Lagasse's theatrical displays, deeming his antics to be flamboyant, devoid of substance, and more entertainment than instruction. In May 2003, the Food Network signed Lagasse to a five-year, multi-million dollar deal for 90 new episodes per year.
I never did understand the appeal of television chefs, but I always did like Emeril Lagasse. But Emeril was always more than just a cook. He's probably the best pure showman who just happens to be working in the food industry.