For much of the ’90s and aughts, the culinary scene was defined by Emeril Lagasse and his catchphrase “Bam!” on the Food Network and other outlets. The colorful chef made cooking fun, accessible and even boisterous, hosting Emeril Live with an audience and house band from 1997 to 2010 on the Food Network and Fine Living.
At one point, his restaurant empire stretched from New Orleans to Las Vegas and Miami Beach. He appeared regularly at prestigious food events, including the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, and on television shows like ABC’s Good Morning America and Bravo’s Top Chef. Lagasse penned 19 cookbooks, sold pots and pans on HSN, and even had a network sitcom on NBC, called Emeril.
Lagasse’s “Bam!” seemed ubiquitous. Until it wasn’t.
The chef admits that the pandemic took a toll on his restaurants and relentless travel schedule. Lagasse, now 63, had to close seven eateries and let go of countless employees. “It’s been a challenge for the entire industry,” he says, “not just me.”
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, though, as he is returning to his roots, focusing on fine dining at his flagship restaurant, Emeril’s, in New Orleans. “Emeril’s has changed a lot,” he says. “After the pandemic, most restaurateurs were trying to figure out how to do things more cheaply and deal with the labor shortage. I decided to go the opposite way.”
Originally opened in 1990, Emeril’s now serves only multicourse tasting menus, both a classic selection and a seasonal one. Foodies can indulge in a gourmet journey through Emeril’s greatest hits on the classic menu, spanning smoked salmon cheesecake, oyster stew, raviolo with Gulf shrimp, potato Alexa, lobster with buttered leeks, filet and daube glacé, honey pear sorbet and pomegranate granita, and banana cream pie. The seasonal menu revolves around what’s ripe, fresh and harvested locally.
“I’ve been wanting to do this at Emeril’s for a long, long time,” he says. “It’s been great seeing the evolution. We do maybe 90 covers a night, but it’s very structured and elevated. It’s just a different vibe. I really want to give people the best New Orleans experience.”
Some of this new energy is coming from the second generation of Lagasse chefs: His son, E.J., is now working at Emeril’s as chef patron after stints at Le Bernardin, Café Boulud, Core and Frantzén. Father and son often work the line alongside each other, and they are discussing opening a new restaurant together.
Emeril is traveling again, too. This month, the chef is returning to SOBEWFF as the host of Burger Bash, taking over the mantle from his good friend and fellow food personality Rachael Ray, who helmed the event since 2007. The epic burger show-down, held oceanside behind the Delano hotel on February 23, features more than 30 chefs from around the country competing to take home the Very Best Burger Award.
So what does Lagasse look for in a burger? “Simplicity is best,” he says. “It’s about high-quality meat that is well seasoned and a great bun. I particularly like smothered onions. The tomato needs to be ripe, and since I’m not a big fan of having raw lettuce on hot meat, I generally pass on the lettuce. And Dijon mustard, not ketchup.”
Along with his appearances, Lagasse is making his way back to TV, filming new shows Emeril Cooks and Emeril Tailgates for Roku. The platform also bought his library of content from the Food Network and is streaming classics such as Essence of Emeril and Emeril Live.
As for his signature phrase—Bam!—it seemingly won’t go away, at least among his many fans. “It’s still in the vocabulary, but it doesn’t come up as often,” Lagasse says. “Occasionally people will say, ‘Can you please say it? Can you just say, “Bam!”’ And so I’ll give them a ‘Bam!’ every now and then.”