800 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
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.
Interview with Chef David Slater of Emeril’s – New Orleans, LA
Nick Rummell: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
David Slater: I'm from Toronto originally. It's a multicultural city, and my parents were big foodies. They made sure I went to their favorite restaurants, and introduced me to a bunch of ethnic food and to fine dining at a young age.
NR: Did you attend culinary school? Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
DS: Yes, I went to Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida. I started my career at Big City Tavern in West Palm Beach. Worked there for a while, and then moved from Florida to New Orleans to work at Windsor Court Grill. I guess culinary school is what you make of it. Culinary skills are basically teaching people that they're chefs before they're ready for the real world. School definitely teaches you the basics if you want to learn. But it's what you make of it.
NR: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
DS: Through Emeril's we do a lot of work through the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which raises money for needy children. It built the kitchen at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts culinary program. New Orleans is like a fraternity. Everyone knows each other, and we try to help one another.
NR: What's the toughest thing you've had to do in your job?
DS: Sacrifice. I've spent much less time with my family and the majority of my time at the restaurant. Everything else in life is on hold when you're in this industry. You have to make this—cooking—your passion.
NR: What does success mean for you?
DS: I don't think I'm successful yet. There's always more to learn. Everyone has a longer way to go.
NR: Where do you see yourself in five years?
I want to continue doing stuff with Emeril. He's an amazing person to work for. He still comes into the restaurant. He'll come in, kick me out, and work. I love talking with him about food. It's comfortable, but this company … it just doesn't feel like a company. Every restaurant has its own identity, of course, but Emeril's
feels like a family.