Emeril Lagasse

Sara Essex Bradley
Emeril Lagasse

Emeril Lagasse is a thoughtful, down-to-earth man who achieved success with serious cooking at important restaurants. But "Bam!"—his catchphrase on his Food Network TV show—made him an international star and kicked off a new era of celebrity chefs.

Lagasse was born into a working-class family in Massachusetts. He first discovered a love of cooking while working at a Portuguese bakery at age 12. Drums were his other passion, but, although he secured a scholarship to a conservatory, he opted for cooking school at Johnson & Wales University. When Ella Brennan needed a replacement for chef Paul Prudhomme at Commander's Palace in New Orleans in 1985, she hired Lagasse. For five years, he learned about Louisiana cuisine and the Brennan approach to hospitality. In 1990, he struck out on his own with Emeril's New Orleans. It shook up a local dining scene that was fairly complacent. Lagasse would go on to open 12 restaurants in multiple cities, specializing in hearty comfort food made with fine-cuisine techniques. He has also published numerous cookbooks.

His television career began with guest appearances, including a show with Julia Child. In 1997, he began hosting his first Food Network show. While taping multiple segments a day, he noticed his crew dozing and realized he had to become a performer. "Bam!" he yelled as he threw some seasonings into a pot. It was the birth of a TV star. With his amped up persona and enthusiasm, he made cooking fun for a whole generation. He also launched several food product lines, starting with Emeril's Essence, a custom spice blend.

While wine wasn't a major component on his shows, it has always been integral to Lagasse's restaurants. He served as his own wine buyer for Emeril's in its early days, meeting with dozens of winemakers to learn. Under professional sommeliers, the wine programs at Emeril's New Orleans and his Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas both earned Wine Spectator Grand Awards. Today, vintners are among Lagasse's closest friends and support his charity foundation's annual gala, Carnival du Vin. Lagasse earned Wine Spectator's Distinguished Service Award in 2005.

Watch Emeril at the NYWE