Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...
BAM! POW! PASS THE CRAWFISH
What makes The Essence of Emeril, the how-to cooking show hosted by Emeril Lagasse, the highest-rated program on the Food Network? The answer is simple: "Great food!" the 38-year-old chef enthuses. But in fact, it's not just the food, it's Lagasse's unique instructional style. Three times a day, five times a week on his half-hour program, he merrily leans forward and back, sways from side to side, spikes his ingredients with fresh parsley and peppers and punches up his delivery with intermittent shouts of "Whoo! Bam! Kick it up a notch!"
Lagasse grew up in Fall River, Mass., the son of Emeril Jr., a textile worker, and Hilda, a homemaker. His interest in cooking began when, at age 7, he helped his mom whip up a vegetable soup. "I was kind of viewed as a weird kid because I liked food," Lagasse says. "I used to play around with dough." He graduated from Johnson & Wales University, in Providence, with a culinary arts degree and, after a succession of restaurant jobs, ended up in New Orleans, where in 1981 he took over for Paul Prudhomme at the Commander's Palace. In 1990, Lagasse opened his own restaurant in the Big Easy, Emeril's, where he still cooks (he goes to New York City to shoot Essence once a month). He also owns NOLA, in the French Quarter, and Emeril's New Orleans Fishhouse, in Las Vegas's MGM Grand Hotel.
Lagasse says the secret of his success is making everything from scratch: "That's the only way I know how to do it." At Emeril's, he even raises hogs so he can make his own andouille, ham and bacon. "We make our own cheese, Worcestershire sauce, ice creams," he says. "But, hey, wake up! This is how you do it. We're not building a rocket ship here. We're making chicken stock!"
Lagasse never tires of concocting such culinary delights as crawfish-stuffed filet mignon and foie gras bread pudding. "This is art!" he says. But since his show started in '94, he has discovered the joy of cooking with couch potatoes. "It's amazing how many people TV touches," he says. "I have children cults! I have firemen, 30 at once, watching in firehouses around the country. Now I walk down a street in New York, and a taxi driver will say, 'Hey, Essence!' "
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