Bam! What we got boiling away here, folks, is a piquant mix of TV, chili peppers and one very garrulous, regular-guy gastronome. Don't worry, as he often exclaims, "This ain't rocket science!" It's the raucous world of restaurateur Emeril Lagasse, Food Network superstar, and you'd have to have been trapped in the crisper drawer all year to miss his ascension to culinary kingpin. His two daily shows—Emeril Live and Essence of Emeril—and four successful cookbooks serve up his mealtime manifesto: Let the snooty haute cuisiners keep their soupçons. All you need to capture Lagasse's Big Easyesque flavor are zest (the human, not the citrus kind), liberal amounts of his Essence spice mix and a willingness to take instruction—"Kick It Up A Notch!"
You don't even have to cook. "Television is entertainment. I'm trying to make people happy," says Lagasse, 39, who, as his 400,000 viewers know, started out in his native Fall River, Mass., but gained fame in New Orleans, where he opened his flagship Emeril's in 1990. "We're serious about food, but we're not, like, all tight and stuffy."
Extremely tight, however, are tickets to Live, taped in Manhattan before 150 of the 1500 fans who request them for each show. So, too, are reservations at Lagasse's three New Orleans eateries and his Las Vegas outpost (with Vegas II and Orlando coming soon). A recent bookstore appearance in Detroit drew 3,000 fans who waited hours to have his latest, Emeril's TV Dinners, inscribed with his trademark "Bam!" (Lagasse-ese for "add more spices.") "I'm having fun with the people," says the twice-divorced father of two teenage girls. "I went with the live format because of the energy and spiritual thing with the audience."
For some, the karma's not so tasty. In November, The New York Times groused that the graduate of Providence's Johnson & Wales University is weak on technique ("loose to the point of sloppy"). But no less an authority than Julia Child, who once included him as a guest on her Cooking with Master Chefs series, disagrees: "He has had wonderful training and knows what he's doing." Moreover, stresses New Orleans restaurant owner Anne Kearney, who once worked for him, "He infects people with his enthusiasm and love for food." Bam!
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