Award-winning chef Emeril Lagasse became a national figure as a host of several popular cooking shows. But in New Orleans, he's known for his flagship restaurant "Emeril's." It's been an institution in the city for more than 30 years. His restaurant has undergone some big changes thanks to the new young chef at its helm — E.J. Lagasse.
E.J., the 19-year-old son of Emeril, said he fell in love with cooking when he was just a boy and knew it was what he was meant to do.
"Every young kid thinks I'm going to play a sport, I'll be in the Olympics or something like that. It wasn't what it was for me," E.J. said.
At the age of 10, he told his famous father of his own culinary aspirations.
"I sat them down at dinner. I just said, 'By the way guys, this is what I'm gonna do.' And the first words he said were "Are you sure about that?" and I was like "Yeah, yeah,'" E.J. said.
"He did it on his own. I never had a conversation with him to say this is what you need to do," his father said.
He graduated culinary school last May and has apprenticed with esteemed chefs in celebrated kitchens worldwide. It was soon after that he began helping revamp the dining experience at his father's restaurant, where just 60 guests per night are treated to a newly designed tasting menu. The menu is based on his father's original offerings and influenced by Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin and Chef Clare Smyth of Core.
The restaurant — his father's first, of what is currently five in the Emeril's Restaurants group, two of which are in New Orleans — opened in 1990, launching Emeril's to celebrity status with his take on what became known as new New Orleans cuisine. The elder Lagasse has since helmed cooking, travel and talk shows; released a line of his own spice blends and later other branded foods and cooking products; and authored cookbooks.
E.J., now chef patron at his father's original, eponymous New Orleans restaurant, said the more personalized and smaller experience is the change that the establishment needed to go through to not remain stagnant.
"How can you expect chefs to walk through that back door with a hunger to grow in themselves?" he said.
He's recently been behind in creating the restaurant's summer menu — putting his own spins on his dad's time-tested dishes, something that his father embraces.
For Emeril, his son's changes are indicative of a larger evolution of the Emeril's brand.
"In life, passing the torch is not as easy as it sounds. But when you're confident of passing the torch then it becomes much easier," Emeril said.
"We're creating something out of absolute love, and so when we come in and we get to do that with passion, and respect for the past — and also an eye on the future — it's the greatest joy ever," E.J. said.
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