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Known as much for the catchphrases "Bam!" and "Kick it up a notch!" as his Creole-infused recipes, celebrity chef supreme Emeril Lagasse became a major feature on the American culinary landscape with massive exposure on cooking shows such as "Essence of Emeril" (Food Network, 1994-2008). After earning his stripes with a stellar run as the executive chef at the renowned New Orleans eatery Commander's Palace, Lagasse opened the first of several astonishingly successful restaurants of his own in 1990. Within a few short years, he parlayed that success into a slew of awards, best-selling cookbooks and his own cooking show, "Essence of Emeril," named after his ubiquitous retail line of seasonings. More television projects and restaurants followed, as did books - over 15 bestsellers, in addition to a line of children's books. Lagasse appeared regularly on virtually every talk show - both daytime and late night - and even enjoyed a regularly featured character based on him on the animated comedy series "Futurama" (FOX, 1999-2003; Comedy Central, 2009-12). His vast empire grew to include lines of cookware, appliances, and apparel, as well as a philanthropic organization he founded in 2002. As the poster child for the cooking craze that swept America in the late-1990s, Lagasse's appeal sprang largely from an adventurous, intercontinental approach to comfort food, delivered in an unassuming, fun-loving manner by a natural self-promoter.
Born Emeril John Lagasse on Oct. 15, 1959 in Fall River, MA, he was the son of Portuguese parents John and Hilda. It was from his mother that Lagasse gained his first culinary instruction, and honed his skills further as a teen while working at a local Portuguese bakery. A talented drummer, he was offered a full scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music after graduating high school. Lagasse instead chose to pursue his love of cooking by becoming a professional chef. To this end, he enrolled at nearby Rhode Island's Johnson and Wales University where he earned a degree in the culinary arts. After college, Lagasse spent time abroad in Paris and Lyon, where he embraced further culinary training and learned the secrets and traditions of French cuisine. Eventually, the newly minted chef returned stateside, where he impressed patrons at various restaurants in New York, Boston and Philadelphia before making the fateful move to New Orleans. Asked to come to the Big Easy by restaurateurs Dick and Ella Brennan, Lagasse made a name for himself at the famed Commander's Palace restaurant, where he fell in love with the flavors of Cajun and Creole cooking during his seven and a half-year tenure.
In 1990, Lagasse ventured into business for himself when he opened his first dining establishment, the Creole-infused Emeril's Restaurant, in downtown New Orleans. An immediate success, the upscale eatery - named "Restaurant of the Year" by Esquire magazine later that same year - would be the first of more than 10 establishments Lagasse would open across the country in locations such as Las Vegas, NV, Orlando, FL and Bethlehem, PA in the years that followed. With his reputation growing almost exponentially, Lagasse won the prestigious James Beard Award for "Best Southeast Regional Chef" in 1991, and was widely touted as one of America's top 25 new chefs. Soon, he began appearing on several installments of the celebrated "Great Chefs" specials, including "A New Orleans Brunch" (PBS, 1992) and "A Holiday Table" (PBS, 1992). The following year, Lagasse shared his early culinary secrets with the publication of his debut cookbook - the first of dozens - "New" New Orleans Cooking, in April 1993. With the wave of celebrity chef mania on the rise, television came courting Lagasse in earnest, and the following year the rising star hosted a cooking show of his own, titled "Essence of Emeril" (Food Network, 1994-2008). Practically overnight, the program became one of the network's highest rated shows.
Inspired by the success of "The Essence of Emeril," Lagasse wasted no time launching a second show, "Emeril Live" (Food Network, 1997-2007; FLN, 2008-2010). With a more kinetic, faster-paced format than its predecessor, this second endeavor went on to win the celebrity chef a Cable Ace Award for Best Informational Show in its debut season. Now with two successful series under his belt, Lagasse's professional world was heating up and the entire country wanted a taste of what he had to offer. In 1998 - the same year he was named Chef of the Year by GQ magazine - ABC decided they also wanted a piece-of-the-pie and offered Lagasse a position as Food Correspondent for "Good Morning America" (ABC, 1975- ). In this new freelance position, he brought Cajun and Creole cuisine from the Bayou to the masses via yet another previously untapped demographic - early morning news audiences. His first stumble came at the height of his popularity, when Lagasse tried to cook up a successful sitcom, not surprisingly titled "Emeril" (NBC, 2001), on which he starred as a celebrity chef trying to juggle his burgeoning television career with his hectic family life. The show, co-starring the late Robert Urich, failed to tantalize audiences and left a bad taste in the mouth of critics, leading to a quick cancellation.
The failure of "Emeril," however, was only a minor blip on the radar for Lagasse's growing empire. The culinary entrepreneur turned into a philanthropist in 2002, when he established the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, an organization that would support children's educational, nutritional, and arts programs. He reached for the stars and hit yet another milestone in August 2006 by becoming the first celebrity chef to have meals developed for NASA astronauts and actually have those recipes served in space. Lagasse went corporate in 2008 when Martha Stewart Living acquired all of the assets in his vast media and retail enterprises. That same year saw the launch of his latest television venture, the healthy alternative cooking and lifestyle show "Emeril Green" (Planet Green, 2008-10). Lagasse took another stab at acting - this time off camera - when he playfully voiced Marlon, the trumpet-playing alligator, in Disney's return to 2-D animation, "The Princess and the Frog" (2009). He entered the world of culinary competition when he appeared on the special "Super Chef Battle: An Iron Chef America Event" (Food Network, 2010). Teamed with Mario Batali, Lagasse went up against Iron Chef Veteran Bobby Flay and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford in a contest using ingredients from the White House garden.
Besides losing to Flay and Comerford in the aforementioned "Super Chef Battle," Lagasse experienced another minor setback on television when his next program, "The Emeril Lagasse Show" (ION, 2010) - a talk show-inspired outing that featured bandleader Dave Koz - was canceled within months after its premiere. Undeterred, the cornucopian cook bounced back with two more offerings on the Cooking Channel - "Fresh Food Fast with Emeril Lagasse" and "The Originals with Emeril"; the latter show devoted to shining a spotlight on the history of America's most iconic dining establishments.
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