Emeril Lagasse held forth at a recent book signing and special lunch to celebrate his latest cookbook, Essential Emeril: Favorite Recipes and Hard-Won Wisdom from My Life in the Kitchen. The event took place at the Left Bank in Larkspur and attracted a huge crowd, all eager to see the man who single handedly jettisoned the Food Network from obscurity to household name with his mega popular show Emeril Live.
The signature warmth and catchphrases – Bam! and GAHlic – that people have come to expect from Emeril, however, were notably absent. Emeril took questions and engaged the audience but did not indulge them in his usual easy banter and playful mannerisms.
Emeril’s subdued appearance was perhaps due in part because his dear friend Paul Prudhomme had recently passed. Emeril had replaced Paul as executive chef at the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, when Paul had left to open his restaurant K-Paul’s. Emeril began the event with a moment of silence honoring the iconic chef who did so much to elevate and popularize the food of New Orleans.
Or perhaps it was also in part because he is still hurt over the Food Network’s cancellation of his shows, a slap in the face to the one who made the Food Network what it is today. When questioned about whether he would be hosting another food show like Emeril Live, his reply was telling, “I keep looking for a network but no one can afford me.”
Despite the fact that Emeril did not kick it up a notch, the event spoke to his abounding popularity and devoted fans. The meal, a four course affair executed beautifully by Chef de Cuisine Fabrice Marcon, showcased the simple, eclectic, and abundantly flavored recipes in Essential Emeril. The cookbook, containing 130 recipes, each with personal anecdotes, reflecting a lifetime of essential cooking and essential memories.
Emeril regaled the audience on his philosophy of food, on the importance of quality and simplicity. He described how he understood the food of New Orleans by going out into the field and meeting the people who made the food.
“When I was hired as executive chef at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, I immersed myself in the city of New Orleans. I spent my days off out in the country, meeting farmers and fishermen, learning about local ingredients, and finding local sources for everything we needed. If you understand the people and the place, then you will understand the food. You have to understand the culture first,” Emeril asserts.
Emeril also emphasized the sacrifice and dedication that comes with choosing a career in food, and that the main ingredient for a successful career as a chef is passion.
“The hours are so long and when most other people are getting time off, like the holidays and weekends, those are the times you have to work the most. So it’s very hard. You have to really want it: it has to be your life.”
With over eighteen bestselling cookbooks, thirteen award winning restaurants, as well as lines of cookware and spices, Emeril’s life is cooking. “Each day I get up I don’t feel like I’m going to work,” Emeril stated, showing his love for his craft and the life and empire it has created.
Cooking has and always will be the way that Emeril experiences the world and his cookbook is an ode to all that has led him up to now, it is his ultimate collection and reflects his main goal which has always been to get people cooking. While his show inspired so many to see food as something fun, creative, and satisfying, his cookbooks offer inspiration and – with a rigorous regard for recipe testing – the promise of success.
“I want to get people into their kitchens,” Emeril explains. “That was my whole thing with TV. I didn’t give a shit. I don’t want to intimidate people. I want them to cook.
Emeril’s life and genius is food; the ingredients for his empire have been curated over a lifetime of intense focus, dedication, and yes, passion.