He'll be the first to tell you: David Slater is not from New Orleans. (He's not even from the States.) A Toronto, Ontario, native of Russian and Romanian heritage, Slater began life completely and blissfully ignorant to beignets or gumbo. But since moving to the city, he's fallen deeply, and palate-first, under its magical spell.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Slater's journey to NOLA was trod on a Lagasse path. He studied at the Florida Culinary Institute, and after graduating, joined the Emeril Lagasse family of restaurants in 2001. His first position was in Orlando, but Slater eventually moved to Atlanta, finally landing at Lagasse's New Orleans ground zero as a sous chef at Emeril's. Then came Katrina, and like many cooks and chefs looking for work, Slater made his way up to New York City, staying there for several months in the wake of the storm. But the non-native's heart lay in New Orleans, and he soon returned to help reopen Emeril's restaurant, all the while working his way from sous chef to chef de cuisine.
He may be at the helm of Emeril's, but Slater isn't just mimicking the restaurant's namesake. His Eastern European heritage heavily influences his style of cooking, as does music, which he describes as intrinsic to New Orleans culture. Clearly morphing into a borrowed native son, Slater says music is in the sounds of pouring wine, clanking silverware, and humming guest voices at Emeril's. And whether it's high-end or casual food, Slater feels every ingredient—from foie to lowly chicken—deserves a chef's untrammeled respect and attention. Which is why we felt he deserved our attention, and a 2012 StarChefs.com Rising Stars Award.