No New Orleanian has as high a profile in the outside world as Chef Emeril. He’s so well liked around America that his series of fundraisers for the city in the months right after the hurricane generated millions, dwarfing the numbers from any comparable private source.
Emeril reopened two of his three New Orleans restaurants well before 2005 was out, and before most other gourmet establishments. By doing so, he immediately began taking a bath: His restaurants Emeril’s and Nola relied to a large extent on visitor business, which did not reappear in significant numbers until a year later.
Meanwhile, conditions at his third, and to my mind, best restaurant were terrible. Emeril had already invested more in Delmonico than he’d planned. Now he spent at least that much all over again to repair heavy, hidden damage throughout the century-old building. Delmonico’s problems were much like those at Commander’s Palace in that repairs to both buildings uncovered more damage. Nevertheless, Delmonico reopened this fall and picked up right where it left off.
In between all this, Emeril staged the second annual Carnivale du Vin, a fundraiser whose 2005 premiere was forced out of town. The two days of top-end food and wine events, featuring some of the country’s best-known chefs and winemakers, brought in about $2.5 million for Emeril’s Foundation for Children, most of which is spent locally.
Meanwhile, unaccountably, the chef was being bashed in multiple opinion pieces in The Times-Picayune for allegedly failing to be enough of a booster for the city. It was an astonishing and distressing example of the self-destructive suspicion we often have of the very successful, of the very people we ought to be encouraging.
In the aftermath of the storm, Emeril was a hero.
by Tom Fitzmorris
New Orleans CityBusiness