For 'Emeril's Table,' New Orleans superstar chef downsizes

For 'Emeril's Table,' New Orleans superstar chef downsizes
September 26, 2011
By Dave Walker

More than 2,000 episodes into a TV career that has made him a mass-appeal culinary rock star and captain of a New Orleans-based restaurant-cookware-cookbook empire, Emeril Lagasse is downsizing. No worries. The branded spices, sauces, rubs, mustards, stocks, salsas, salad dressings, Kicked Up Seafood, chef clogs, neckties, golf towels, tableware and Emerilware pots, breadmakers, toasters and slow cookers will continue to flow.
emerilstable.jpgHallmark'Emeril's Table.'

As will the andouille-crusted drum -- by the savory ton -- through Lagasse’s flagship namesake Tchoupitoulas Street eatery.

Where Lagasse is getting small is on-screen.

In a conscious stylistic downshift from the arena setting of his career-supercharging Food Network hit “Emeril Live,” Lagasse’s new Hallmark Channel series is all about intimacy.

“Emeril’s Table” debuts at 10 a.m. Monday (Sept. 26). Each weekday episode will seat a handful of guests at a counter to observe Lagasse at the stove.

Many episodes will be thematic – with newlyweds, say, or firefighters or kids at Halloween seated at the counter.

All will be kicked down a notch from Lagasse’s earlier TV efforts.

This time, it’s “Bam!” with a small ‘b.’ And teaching with a big ‘T.’”

“I think the biggest thing in the restaurants, and why Emeril’s has survived 22 years, is (what) I have done since day one -- mentoring,” Lagasse said during a recent telephone interview. “These young culinarians, they want to learn, they want to be taught, they want to be mentored, they want to be lectured. From day one, I took those experiences of what I did and what I learned at Commander’s Palace to not only the back-of-the-house staff, but the front-of-the-house staff. The biggest tool is for them to be educated.

“I don’t know if we would survive if we didn’t have that philosophy.”

The new show, he added, is a continuation of the same philosophy.

“We sort of put this thing together by experience and feel,” he said. “That is, we didn’t want too big of a set. We certainly could’ve gone that route of more a sort of “Emeril Live”-ish feel, where there were a lot of folks in the house. About that, I said, ‘Guys, look, it’s time to move on. I know we had a lot of success. … I think what we need to do is something a lot more intimate.’

“Basically, what’s not a reach for me is what I do every single day, and that’s cook. Let me cook and let me teach.”

It had been awhile since Lagasse had cooked on camera, but cranking up his presentation skills was easy, he said, once the cameras came on.

“I have done a lot of cooking shows, but there was nothing that was more fun,” he said of taping the first run of episodes. “It was like riding a bike. There were adjustments in the beginning (to) it being intimate. There’s not a lot of noise, there’s not a lot of rumblings going on. There’s no band to carry parts of a segment over. This was just really Emeril, mature, cooking and teaching.”

Not surprising, given the explosion of cuisine-TV since Lagasse made his entrance on the national scene – first with the New Orleans-originating PBS series “Great Chefs” and then the Food Network’s “The Essence of Emeril” -- but civilian interest in the recipes, tips and techniques Lagasse teaches has grown to almost match the skill levels displayed in his restaurant kitchens.

“There’s no question about how the level of experience, the level of sophistication of people out there, has changed,” he said. “What I enjoy the most is that the majority of the guests what would come to ‘Emeril’s Table’ were there for a reason. They weren’t necessarily there for entertainment value. People who came to ‘Emeril Live’ were there not so much because it was a cooking show. There was entertainment value to the show. This was really strictly most driven by people who wanted to learn.”
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