Fall River’s own Emeril Lagasse takes time out of his busy schedule to raise money for the J&W Scholarship Fund
NORTON — Passionate. A single word that pretty much defines the way Emeril Lagasse approaches anything he does, be it his world famous culinary talents, his love of music, golf, fishing or his extensive philanthropic efforts.
America’s most famous chef, the most distinguished alumnus of both Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School and Johnson & Wales University, was on hand at the Tournament Players Club of Boston Monday for his fifth annual charity golf tournament which benefits the J&W Scholarship Fund.
“(The idea for the tournament) began five years ago after my 1,000th show on the (cooking) network,” Lagasse told ‘The Herald News’ in an exclusive interview Monday morning inside the clubhouse at TPC Boston. “I was given a pretty substantial check and I thought it would be great to fuse that with Johnson & Wales and begin an endowment program for students in need.
“When I was in school there was very little money out there. Now there’s a lot of money and young people should take advantage of it.”
He’s the kid from Fall River who made it big, who is recognized world wide by just his first name.
And while he now lives in style at the exclusive English Turn Golf and Country Club outside of New Orleans, he’s never forgotten where he came from.
“I’m a Fall River kid and I’m proud of that,” he said. “I started out baking bread in a Portuguese bakery in my neighborhood. I still have a lot of friends and some family living in Fall River.’
Lagasse took up golf several ago and fell in love with the game.
“Growing up in Fall River golf was not a part of my life,” he laughed. “It came later in life, probably 15 years ago. I just got the bug and I was horrible for a long time.
“Then I took some lessons and began to understand the mechanics of the game and playing the game. It’s something that I really enjoy. Besides cooking and music my two passions in life are golf and fishing.”
Music was his first love and at first he thought it would be his career, but that changed during his years at Diman, where he graduated, with honors, in 1976.
“As a young boy I played music,” he said. “I actually turned down a scholarship to go to college to study music and paid to go to cooking school.
“When I was in high school I had to make a decision, whether or not to play music or cook. I decided that I really liked this cooking thing. It was something I loved to do.”
He related that he never envisioned it would take him where it has. At first he just wanted to be a pastry chef.
“You study and work hard enough and keep pushing,” he explained. “You eventually keep taking steps and you find that you’ve gotten somewhere. I’m still taking steps.”
Back when he was starting out, learning his craft by studying in many places, including France, it was baby steps. Now when Lagasse takes a step it’s likely to shake the culinary world.
In addition to his highly acclaimed TV show he owns and operates an ever growing number of five star restaurants around the country.
In fact, in addition to providing scholarships to deserving Johnson & Wales students, Lagasse gives many of them the opportunity to work in his establishments, thus gaining the kind of experience that provides a giant head start on the competition.
“Johnson & Wales means a lot to me,” he said. “I believe in the mission, in what they are trying to do with young people, giving them the foundation and the tools like I got, to be able to go into the world, to understand it and begin to take steps toward success.”
Lagasse, 48, believes in being a good citizen, and much of that comes from giving back.
Five years ago he and his wife, Alden, started the ‘Emeril Lagasse Foundation’.
“It’s all about children,” said Emeril, who has four of his own, Jessie, E.J., Meril and Jillian. “We’re making big marks in that area. We just funded 76 children’s programs this summer in New Orleans, which is still a mess (in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina).”
The foundation is helping build a children’s museum on the gulf coast, near where Lagasse just opened a restaurant. He and his wife are helping rebuild a church as well as operating a culinary center to help get kids off the street and give them a career.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can for kids because they are the future,” he said.
Herald News Staff Reporter