This week we wish a happy 60th birthday to Emeril Lagasse, the superstar chef and restaurateur who has never forgotten New Orleans as the place where his career blossomed. In fact, his internationally known cooking and restaurant empire is still based here, with its headquarters, Emeril’s Homebase, located on St. Charles Avenue.
Born Oct. 15, 1959 in Fall River, Massachusetts, Lagasse attended culinary arts classes at the prestigious Johnson and Wales University before working at restaurants in New York, Boston and Philadelphia early in his career.
In the 1980s, he was lured to New Orleans by Ella and Dick Brennan to work at Commander’s Palace. There, Lagasse built on the innovations of his predecessor, Paul Prudhomme, who helped revitalize what the Brennans called haute Creole cuisine. “It’s taking an American dish and refining it and presenting it beautifully. … We’re keeping that wonderful Creole taste but lightening it,” he told The Times-Picayune in Sept. 1984, 18 months after joining Commander’s. “The culture here is magnificent when it comes to food and I’m a foodie,” he said. “The food, the people, the atmosphere, the traditions — it’s paradise.”
In 1990, Lagasse opened his own critically acclaimed restaurant, Emeril’s, in the Warehouse District. It was followed two years later by NOLA Restaurant in the French Quarter. Over the years, his empire grew to four restaurants here as well as nearly a dozen other eateries in Las Vegas, Florida and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He became a television favorite, with a long-running show on the Food Network, as well as appearances on "Good Morning America" and "Top Chef."
Lagasse has authored 19 cookbooks and he and his restaurants have earned dozens of awards. In 2013, he was named the Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation for his philanthropic work supporting children’s educational programs and the culinary arts. His Emeril Lagasse Foundation has given $10 million to charities and schools across the country.