Celebrity chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse is ready to get more intimate with his daily television series “Emeril’s Table,” which premieres September 26, 2011, at 11 a.m. Eastern Time on Hallmark Channel. Instead of having a large studio audience (which have been a regular feature of his past TV series), each episode of “Emeril’s Table” features five “everyday people” as guests, with Lagasse giving cooking lessons and answering questions. “Emeril’s Table” is produced by Emeril Primetime Productions in association with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
Lagasse was one of the original stars of the Food Network in the 1980s, and 21st century, there has been an explosion of cooking/chef-based reality TV shows. Even with all of these shows on the air (and with some of these shows focusing more on dramatic conflicts between people on the show than on the actual food), Lagasse has remained true to his core values of cooking skills in a no-nonsense manner that is fun to watch. In a telephone conference call with journalists Lagasse chatted about “Emeril’s Table” and what it’s like in his own home when his family gathers for meal around the table.
What can you say about “Emeril’s Table”?
I’m very excited about “Emeril’s Table,” and basically this half hour show is really very exciting and very educational for folks. I would say that it’s a bit of intimacy that part of the all these daily entertaining of the half hour, giving the ultimate cooking lessons to a wide range of visitors. And what I mean by that is “Emeril’s Table” as we’re seeing the hottest reservation on television, there’s five seats at the food bar so that’s where it becomes very intimate and very educational for the home viewer as well as for the audience members.
The audience members range from newlyweds and busy moms to firefighters and vegetarians to all sorts of folks in life, real people experiencing real food. There is an array of type of programming so it’s not just one direct style of cooking. It’s really trying to, with my style, trying to take the intimidation factor out of cooking for folks at home and encouraging them something about food whether it’s shopping or a new ingredient or a new technique. So in essence, that’s really the show.
In your opinion, as a country, do you think we’ve lost this value of having time together with family in the creation of food enjoying of it together?
Well, I feel what you’re saying. I somewhat feel a little bit different and maybe it’s because of not only my East Coast presence but my presence in the South, particularly in New Orleans and in Florida. I’m seeing a lot more people trying to really encourage the family table and make the family table special again. I know personally with writing and producing “Emeril’s Table” that was sort of the mind of what you just said. The table part of it was really sharing food and memories and different experiences with this table, with these five folks.
On a personal note, beside the show, I feel the same way about my cooking and what we do whether it’s at a restaurant or on television or how I’m writing books these days. It’s all about encouraging that family table. So I think that it starts from the top. I think that we’ve all become very busy, particularly through Monday through Thursday, as families. I think we have to rethink the food plan and have a food plan so that by the end of the day we’re not ending up in some concrete parking lot trying to order from the window.
In the original “Emeril” show in New Orleans, it was like a party and there was music. Can you talk about the subtle differences between that show and “Emeril’s Table”?
Well, my experience with Food Network was 16 years ago. I began helping them launch a channel with “The Essence of Emeril,” which was a half an hour serious food, teaching food program. And then we had a 10-year run of “Emeril Live,” which is the show you’re talking about which had a huge [studio] audience — 200 people — had a band. Most of the guests that we had were musician-oriented, partly because of my background and love.
This show [“Emeril’s Table”] is really back to serious cooking but it is fun because with the audience, five people, the ranges of life bring a lot of realism to the show and to the programming. And so some of them are advance planned and some of them are not both in audience and/or content of what we’re going to particularly do for that particular show.
I know we’re launching the first episode with a pasta show; the second episode is going to be vegetarian. And I think what you’ll see is real food cooked in real time. There were few times where we actually had swap food terminology in cooking. We really cook most things every day in real time to show that realism, not only to the five people there but hopefully to the folks at home.
“Emeril’s Table” is being produced by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. How do you and Martha Stewart get along? Which one of you of you think prepares a better family dinner?
I think Martha has been doing what she’s been doing for a long time. I joined the organization close to I guess four years, almost five years ago. Martha and I have a very, very healthy relationship personally and work-wise as well in the environment. I think the thing that really stands out that makes it a great partnership is that Martha is Martha and Emeril’s Emeril and Emeril’s not trying to be Martha or Martha’s not trying to be Emeril.
We run two very separate entities and have two very different styles. Sometimes they’re on the same page and sometimes they vary but the relationship is healthy. What’s going on in the organization right now is extremely positive. We have some very positive changes that are taking place. I know the Emeril business is really looking up. We’re having an awesome 2011. And I think that despite the economy and what’s happening in the crazy world and in this crazy country, I think we are running a really great operation and have a healthy future.
What are you specifically hearing from the people that you’re cooking for about what is intimidating about cooking?
That’s a great question, Jeff, and I think that we could really answer every one of those areas that you’ve brought up because everybody has different strengths and weaknesses in the kitchen as a cook whether it’s a beginning cook or one with a little bit more experience. On the show with these guests, we’ve experienced them all. We’ve had folks that are frightened about going to the grocery store and don’t even know where to begin. We have folks that have timing problems. That seems to keep coming up and keep coming up. “How do I keep the potatoes warm? I’m trying to cook the steak yet I’m burning the broccoli.”
And then of course the downright area of just technique and doing it right and building a recipe from start to finish whether it’s seasoning or depth of flavors, et cetera. We showcase all of those things just about every show. Every show we’re trying to talk a little bit about shopping or an experience that the show is about. Let’s just say Spain. This is how it was in Spain. This is how they did it in Spain. This is how they always do it in Spain. This is how we’re doing it today. You choose what you feel comfortable with.
So there’s that, there’s the shopping or fabricating part of it whether it’s about look, you can buy broken-down chicken and you can pay $3.29 a pound for it, you can buy a whole fryer chicken for $1.29 a pound and this is how you would butcher it and look at the money that you’re going to save. You’re going to save $21 and some cents if you do it this way as opposed to that way.
So we’re giving them also lots of combinations of how to buy it, how to fabricate it, how to cook it and a lot of history about where it comes from. Whether it’s something simple as maybe a brussel sprout or a string bean or what really is grass-fed beef as opposed to dry-age beef. And I’ve been doing this for a little while. I’ve done a lot of television. I’ve shot a lot of shows. I got to tell you, I’m super-proud of “Emeril’s Table.” It’s going to be an awesome show.
Do you recall what was intimidating to you when you first started cooking?
Well, I think the general mass of it. First of all, how do I get it? How do I shop for it? And then later on becoming a chef, it was. Now how do I grow it? Pretty much everyday folks now can experience that because that’s the great thing about local farmers’ markets, which is fantastic. Then after that it was just, “OK, what do I want to cook?”
And what I realized is that I learned how to cook onion soup as an example probably 12 different ways from 12 different chefs. And then all of a sudden, a light bulb went out and it was like, “What? Now I’m going to cook onion soup my way. I know now I want to use a combination of beef and chicken broth. I don’t want to use just beef. I want to caramelize my onions to this certain degree.” And as you begin, as you start doing it a little bit more and a little bit more, you begin to start getting a lot more comfortable with it and you begin to start discovering a technique of your own.
There are dozens of cooking shows that spotlight the eager home cook. What made you decide to jump into this already popular genre? And what will “Emeril’s Table” bring to the table?
I didn’t really jump into the genre because I think I started it — and I’m not saying that sarcastically. I started and had 12 seasons of “Essence of Emeril” back in the ‘80s and helped launch the Food Network from zero to now 100 million homes.
And then, after having that run, I took a little break and then I went and did something very fun more in the field called “Emeril Green” and sort of really tried to nail down or tried to nail down to the average person of what this whole green movement was and whether it was growing something organically or making something organically.
And then from there this opportunity came, and I’ve done a couple of fun shows to launch the Cooking Channel but then I really wanted to get back in what I do and what I do is I’m a cook and I cook every day. Love to cook, love to teach people and there was an opportunity with “Emeril’s Table” on this Hallmark block and I thought it was going to be a perfect match and I really feel that it is a perfect match. It’s a great show.
What group of people is most challenging to help and can you give us an example or two of the questions and dilemmas that they pose to you?
A lot of times what comes up is, “Boy, you make that seem really easy but how come it doesn’t happen like that for me?” And so then I try to explain that whether you’re cooking with a recipe or not, it’s sort of like a song. You sort of have to go through it in your head once or twice to sort of get as much of a visual fact that you can before you go ahead and just start putting things in the pot. That’s probably number one.
Number two is the grocery store experience. When do I buy fresh, how can I use frozen, do I use canned and when do I do all of that? So the educational factor is, “Let’s start from a fresh perspective. Let’s start about reading labels and how you can read labels.” Not intimidating. Why? Because it can be very intimidating with a lot of these label readings with stuff that’s in there that you don’t even know how to pronounce.
So getting back to basics is another one. I think sometimes we have a tendency after a while to over-complicate things and I think that it’s better if we go back and try to keep it simple and keep it fresh. And that’s exactly what a lot of the focus of the show is, is really keeping it simple and fresh so that people could really and want to really cook this at home.
Can you tell us about the best dinner guest you’ve ever had?
On the show or personally?
Well, one immediately comes to mind and that would be Julia Child. I have a very strong tie, love, almost addiction to music and so there have been a lot of music people who have come into my life because of food and some of them have just been really incredible. Billy Joel is an example — a true lover of food, a great cook. Sammy Hagar is another one — a terrific palate, has a garden, cooks most of the meals for his family and I could go on and on and on. I’ve had professional experiences where I’ve had colleagues, I’ve had mentors that have come in and I’ve cooked for so those were always not only a challenge but also quite memorable as well.
You’ve joined the cast of “Top Chef.” Are you involved in any of the challenges or are you mostly just going to be serving as a judge?
I can’t really give you any details of yet but I’m in 10 of the 13 episodes. And the finale so I’ve been very involved with Padma [Lakshmi] and Tom [Colicchio] this season. Gail [Simmons] has sort of branched out a little bit for “Top Chef Deserts” although she’s still involved with the show, with “Top Chef,” the show. But I was also there as a great support system for all three of them.
In “Emeril’s Table,” you have five people around the table that you are conversing with and demonstrating how to cook different things, and you said they come from all walks of life. So how do you choose these people?
Yep. We experienced quite a bit of success in the 10 years of “Emeril Live,” particularly the last five or six years with that. We would do a run of shows a week and we would have roughly 2,000 tickets available and there were years and times where we had a half-a-million requests for those runs. So right off the bat Fran [Brescia-Coniglio] my co-executive producer at Martha Stewart Living, and I and another gentleman, decided that rather than try to be as fair as possible, we would go and hire a professional booker.
And so we had sort of basically a professional concierge, if you will, of television or a rep, if you will, and basically … we would give her a lineup of next week’s shows or next month’s shows. “This week is going to be this show and this show and this show and if the world was perfect we would really like to have these sorts of folks for this show and this would be fun for this show and then she would go and do her job.”
We’re doing something with friendly snacks for Halloween. This would be great if we had kids. And I think that she worked obviously for the first season we worked in the greater tri-borough New York area just because it was a lot more easier to control. But I’m hoping that it evolves and the show evolves and that we can get a lot more part of the country involved.
What are family meals like at your house these days? What’s it like around your table?
The family table in my house is very, very important. As a matter of fact, my kids have a joke that when we get up in the morning I usually ask them what they want for dinner or what we’re having for dinner before I even ask them what’s for breakfast. So it’s very important because we try to have a food plan. I think that’s very important. We have a well-stocked pantry. We try to buy perishable protein and vegetables on a daily or every other day basis. We stay seasonal and fresh as possible. We don’t eat fast food so the family table becomes very important.
Tonight very simple because of the kids’ schedules — football, cheerleading, et cetera, et cetera — we’re having pasta bolognaise with a green vegetable and a very light salad. Coming off of the Labor Day weekend we still had some folks around. We had a family table last night of about 14 with some local shrimp done very simply scampi style with a simple rice pilaf and a great salad and some roasted asparagus and it was perfect.
Can you say a few words about your new book?
Well, it just so happens, the day of the debut of “Emeril’s Table” [is on September 26], and the next day is the debut of the book called “Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders.” What I’ve done, and we can chat about this again some more, but basically what it is is I have, as a cook and talking with cooks and being around cooks, kind of come up with the six cooking vessels as a cook that people love to cook with. A skillet, a casserole, a crockpot, a wok, a pot, et cetera, and basically all of the recipes are in those six categories of those six different cooking vessels. Really phenomenal recipes, great photography, really an awesome book. I’m really proud of it.
What is your advice for someone hosting a dinner party for the first time?
Well, I would certainly know my guests as far as who’s coming and maybe even to the point of likes and dislikes. The worst thing that you want to happen is have six people over for a dinner party and three of them are allergic to shellfish or whatever. So I try to get a little bit of that information first. Secondly, what’s in season. Is it September? Is it July? Is it December? Because food and moods change seasonally just like the seasons do.
And so my advice is to understand that and try to know those couple of factors. Keep it simple, keep it fresh, and you want to try to have a menu that you can do a little bit of advance or a lot of advance prep work in advance so that you can enjoy your guests and enjoy the dinner party as well.
When are you going to have kids in the audience or in the chef’s table? How will you treat them differently from adults?
I have a 10-year-old. My son is getting ready to turn 8. I don’t treat them any differently than I do adults. The only thing differently is that I would serve them water or a natural fruit drink as opposed to wine. But as far as my cooking style, my presentation to them, my menu with them would not be any different because they’re 10 or 12 years old than I would having you and your better half and two other couples over.
And are you going to be having kids on “Emeril’s Table”?
Absolutely. We’ve had children on already in a couple of different age groups. When they’re a little younger than 7 or 8 it’s a different challenge. It brings on a different challenge just because for the most part, 4- or 5-year-olds, they have just a little shorter attention span. So you can’t be dragging things out for hours. You’ve got to get it done.
But 8, 9, 10, 14, we’ve had those kids on. They’re into it. They want to know, they want to learn, they’re inquisitive. Most of them have been in the kitchen like your son with a parent. Most of them really are trying to enhance the family table themselves. Most of them are involved with food shopping which is also very important.
So my philosophy is this: Kids are the future. They’re tomorrow, they’re next week, they’re next year, the next month, and you have to invest in that in order for it to evolve.
How do you adapt to a show when you’ve got only five people in the studio audience per episode?
I hear where you’re going and it’s a great question. For me, it’s much more intimate for me with this show. And it’s sort of like Emeril’s grown up and it’s like a lot more adult kind of show meaning that I’m serious but yet a little bit experienced so I’m not so TV-worried. I’m doing what I love to do and what I do every day, which is cook. I’m crossing boundaries that I normally wouldn’t have done when I was younger, but I am now because I’m a lot more experienced meaning particularly with ethnic foods and techniques. And I’m just downright trying to share that and share that love that I have for what I’m doing.
You don’t have to be quite as boisterous to get them really excited. Is that correct?
You hit it right on the head. It’s a mature cooking show. And I don’t mean that from at all being a snob, because I’m not a food snob at all but it really is. It is a very mature, very intellectual, very right-on with cooking whatever the subject is but there’s humor. There’s not a lot of “bam-bam, thank you, ma’am.” It’s just real downright cooking and education about the subject of what we’re doing.
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Interview with Emeril Lagasse for “Emeril Green”
“Emeril’s Table” news and reviews