Interview with Chef Emeril Lagasse of Emeril's – New Orleans, Louisiana
If restaurants are theatre, Chef Emeril Lagasse deserves an Oscar. His New New Orleans style cooking has turned the town nicknamed the "Big Easy" on it's heels. And I don't think anyone thought that was possible. Listen in to hear what today's drama in the south is all about.
P. Greaney: What makes Emeril's Restaurant different from other New Orleans restaurants?
Emeril Lagasse: When you look at Louisiana food you'll see there is a tremendous amount of respect. Mainly because of the amount of years... it has 200 years of history. There are restaurants that have menus that are older than most US cities.
I never disrespect the tradition but I add new cultures. Portuguese, Southwest, Caribbean, Vietnamese. Eighty percent of the fishing boats are run by Vietnamese, so it's natural. I am fortunate to have built relationships with fishermen, farmers, lettuce growers. I've helped put many of them in business.
Everything I do is from scratch. I've been doing organic for 14 years. I started with a hog farmer to make andouille sausage. In order to have great cuisine you need to have great ingredients. Now...I didn't say EXPENSIVE ingredients.
I spent a lot of time at Commander's Palace... this is why I came in late '82. I came here because the city has a tradition and is a very respected food city. I loved it's culture, music, food...
PG: What is the most popular item on your menu?
EL: The signature items I've created. Double Cut Pork Chops with a tamarind glaze and a green mole sauce (made from nuts) and caramelized sweet potatoes. Barbecue Shrimp with homemade rosemary biscuits. Banana Cream Pie with banana crusted caramel drizzles. Then we have partridge from Michigan and Antelope from Texas. And a dish called Study of Duck. It's a breast of duck that has been Creole marinated. The leg is a confit of duck with foie gras that is seared. We serve it with a wild mushroom bread pudding.
PG: What are the most common special requests from diners?
EL: Food and wine pairings. We have over 17,000 bottles of wine and two full-time sommeliers. We have a 7 course tasting menu that are matched with wine. Sometimes our customers want the dishess to specifically complement the wine. We try to take care of guests in any way we can. Like vegetarian tastings. Which reminds me of our truffles... we are known for our truffles.
PG: I see you include many homemade seasonings in your cookbook.
EL: Oh yes...spice is life. It depends upon what you like... have fun with it. Yes, food is serious but you should have fun with it.
PG: Knowing that you have a Portuguese background I am wondering what your favorite Portuguese dish is.
EL: Kale soup. I use lots of fresh kale, chorizo or andouille sausage, potatoes and chicken stock. My mom (who is Portuguese) used to make it. Mom ran the house so we grew up Portuguese.
PG: What do you like to do when you're not working in the kitchen?
EL: I like to fish. And listen to music. I like to bring music home to relax. After talking to people all day long in the restaurant, which I love to do, I look forward to being quiet at home.
PG: You turned down a music scholarship to go to cooking school. Why did you chose a cooking profession over a music profession?
EL: They are both art forms. I was a whiz kid at music and cooking was more of a challenge. I started working when I was 10 years old in a Portuguese bakery. I just kept with it and liked it. I eventually went to culinary school, Johnson & Wales.
PG: Which chef or cookbook author has inspired you most?
EL: Paula Wolfort, all of her books are great but the one I like most is "Cooking of Southwest France".
PG: Which do you think are the best culinary schools in America?
EL: Oooh, you are putting me on the spot, I am on many school boards. Culinary schools have come so far in America. It depends upon the individual, a good school applies to the
individual needs and it shouldn't be just financial. Louisville, Kentucky has a great school, Sullivan College. Also, NE Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. And there's Johnson & Wales and of course the Culinary Institute of America.
PG: Well, Emeril, thank you so much for your insight and time.
EL: It was a pleasure, thank you. It was fun.