Touring America’s Food with Emeril Lagasse
In his nearly 10 years as a Food Network chef, Emeril Lagasse has been the flamboyant star of his own show, punctuating his cooking with exuberant “bams!” and packing auditoriums.
ow Lagasse is stepping back and letting U.S. regional cuisine star.
Food Network sent the superstar chef to eight cities around the nation where he spent hours with local chefs and in culinary hotspots. It’ll all be dished up in an eight-part series airing on the Food Network beginning Sept. 29, running each night through Oct. 6.
The last entry in the series will be a salute to New York, where Lagasse will cruise around of Manhattan, cooking for an audience that includes fire and rescue personnel.
In an interview from New York, where he had just finished taping, Lagasse said the special comes at a time when people are increasingly turning to the old food classics. After Sept. 11, many people wanted to go back to their roots - eating lox and bagels in New York, for instance, or lobster or fried clams in Maine. It’s making regional dishes all the more relevant.
“Chefs are taking the old classic dishes and modernizing them a little bit,” he said. Ironically, Lagasse has done this for years - at first other chefs looked askance, “saying he’s not sophisticated enough, or he’s too rustic,” he said.
Now, he said, “the connection’s there.”
Cooking up lobster rolls in Boston and fried catfish in Nashville, Tenn., Lagasse is saluting America by taking its culinary highlights and kicking it up a notch. He’s spending more time in cities, meeting people and savoring local goodies, while still spending time in the kitchen.
It’s an extension of work he’s done before. Lagasse has brought his show to Orlando, Fla., Chicago and Las Vegas, but said he decided to salute America largely because of the connections the show has made with the old, the young, chefs and non-chefs and different ethnic groups.
“The last couple of years the show has sort of been wanting to go somewhere to sort of give back to a different audience and location,” he said. He wanted to “go into the cities, really understand the people, understand the cultures, the ingredients, the food - then give that to people in an educational package.”
The result is a series that mixes regional life with Lagasse’s kitchen magic.
In Nashville, for example, Lagasse meets up with local legend Hazel Smith, whose delectable kitchen creations have made her a favorite among country stars. Lagasse also visits a barbecue joint, where he learns the secrets of good Tennessee barbecue. Then he brought their creations into his own kitchen, taking their beloved dishes and giving them his own twist in front of an exuberant audience. He also visits San Francisco, Boston, Houston, Seattle, Detroit and his hometown of New Orleans.
His salute comes at a time when we’re relocating more than ever, and new immigration patterns are impacting regional cuisine. The change, Lagasse said, is for the better.
In Detroit, for example, ethnic food is the norm. Enclaves of Middle Eastern, Polish and Greek immigrants have all left an imprint on regional cuisine. “I was really taken aback after spending some time there at how much good food is in one town,” he said.
And in Nashville, he said, the city’s economic boom has made the traditional pot-cooking menu a little more diverse. The change, he said, added more layers of Southern barbecue cooking and ethnic layers as well. “Now you have more ingredients because people want more,” he said. “It’s fascinating.”
But it’s also seen increasingly across the country. Even as cities stick to their traditional cuisine, they’re adding new ingredients and new twists. And they’ve got more competition, too. “I think in every city you can probably get a decent Japanese meal,” he said. “And a few years ago, you couldn’t.”
– From the Scripps Howard News Service