Call him "Mr. Bam," the "Elvis of TV chefs" or simply Emeril, this forerunner of "New New Orleans" cuisine has a name that precedes him.
As one of the first hosts on the original Food Network line-up, Emeril Lagasse not only put the Big Easy on the map -- he elevated the role of chef to superstar status.
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It might come as a surprise that the ambassador of New Orleans cuisine is actually a Yankee, raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, and earning his culinary chops at Johnson and Wales University.
Lagasse turned down a full music scholarship to go to culinary school.
After training under fine dining chefs at restaurants in Paris and Lyon in France and New York City, Boston and Philadelphia in America, Lagasse was tapped by restaurateurs Dick and Ella Brennan to oversee New Orleans institution Commander's Palace.
He started exploring New Orleans right away.
"If I could understand the culture, I could understand the people. And if I understood the culture and the people, I could understand the food. And that's how I approached it," Lagasse says.
For more than 30 years, Emeril Lagasse has built an empire on the elevated traditions of contemporary Creole and Cajun foods that includes 11 restaurants, 19 best-selling cookbooks, a dozen prestigious awards, a handful of TV shows, an eponymous philanthropy foundation and an entire grocery and cookware line.
He's even had his recipes launched into space for the crew aboard NASA's shuttle Discovery, making him one of the few chefs to go completely out of this world.
Naturally, Lagasse has ideas about how to eat and drink well in New Orleans when you travel here:
Pho Tau Bay
Louisiana is known for its Creole and Cajun populations, but it's also home to a longstanding Vietnamese community that makes this an incredible destination for authentic eats. Emeril is among the countless fans that have made Pho Tau Bay a cult favorite on Tulane Avenue in New Orleans. His go-to picks: chargrilled pork spring rolls and chicken pho.
The Warehouse District
For a NOLA first timer, the French Quarter and Garden District are both no-brainers. But Lagasse is all about the Warehouse District, the revitalized downtown arts sector home to the Contemporary Arts Center, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, The National WWII Museum, and, naturally, Emeril's flagship restaurant, which opened in 1990.
A champion of po'boy sandwiches, no-frills joint Domilise's has remained a beloved neighborhood staple for nearly a century. Tourists, locals and even internationally acclaimed chefs such as Lagasse all mingle here for irresistible fried shrimp and oysters wedged between fresh, crispy Leidenheimer bread, the way it was intended.
Davenport Lounge at The Ritz Carlton
It's easy to make an entire weekend of Big Easy eating, but eventually you'll have to sit back and digest. Fortunately, New Orleans is also the birthplace of jazz, which means there's everything from Dixieland brass to acid jazz happening at any given night around town. Lagasse likes the low-key Davenport Lounge, where headliner Jeremy Davenport's music pairs nicely with craft cocktails.
The bar at Emeril's New Orleans
When you own one of NOLA's top restaurants, it makes sense that you'd want to hang out there sometimes. Lagasse's namesake spot on Tchoupitoulas Street remains his favorite place for a glass of wine (which has picked up Wine Spectator's prestigious "Grand Award" every year since 2000).