Julia Child showed the world that there was more to what you have on your plate than just food. Emeril Lagasse showed the world that a restaurant was more than just food. It was about a chef. Lagasse closed the gap between what is on your plate and who is in the kitchen, inspiring the idea of chef as celebrity.
This weekend, the man behind four Las Vegas restaurants and one of the pioneers of one of the first celebrity chef restaurants in Sin City spent his Saturday at the Venetian, barbecuing food with his friend, musician Sammy Hagar. Here he talks about what Vegas was like when he opened Emeril's New Orleans Fish House 18 years ago at the MGM Grand, his future plans for a more casual restaurant (and no, it's not burgers) and what to expect on Top Chef New Orleans, where he returns for a third season as a judge.
You were one of the first celebrity chefs to come to Las Vegas in 1995 with Emeril's New Orleans Fish House. What was the dining scene like then?
Well the dining scene was not much of a dining scene. Most of the service stuff back then said, "Good luck."
So it was comped?
Yep. So when we announced we were going to do a fish restaurant in the middle of the desert, people were like, "Is he out of his mind? How is going to do this?"
Obviously we did it. We've been extremely successful since 1995. And that says something with the amount of the competition now that's come about.
Las Vegas now is probably one of the most exciting cities for food right now in the world. Really and truly because everybody's here.
But it's not about putting somebody's name on a sign and saying, "Charlie Palmer's here," or "Julian Serrano's here," or "Emeril Lagasse's here." People really have teams and have chefs that are doing it. So it's very exciting.
When I started here, Wolfgang (Puck) had Spago and he had a cafe. There was Mark Miller (who had Mark Miller's Grill Room and Coyote Cafe at the MGM Grand). Then Charlie Trotter opened Charlie Trotter's in the MGM. Then came us. It's been a great ride.
Now I'm having a lot of fun. Lagasse's Stadium is an example. We have a renovation going on. We're going to spend $2 million on the restaurant to renovate it and freshen it up. It's hotter than hot. What's flattering is that all of these people around the country now have heard about Lagasse's Stadium and they're trying to copy it. Now they're trying to do an upscale sports bar.
Table 10 is really coming into its own. Tim (Doolittle) is doing a really super job there. The food is really just finding its own place. You know, I think what's happening with Tim there is that they're owning it. Just like Ronnie Rainwater (at Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian). We're having a lot of fun.
I'd like to expand in Las Vegas. I really would like to do another store. But I have to talk to Sebastien. Maybe you will talk to (Venetian vice president of food and beverage) Sebastien (Silvestri) for me.
I was going to say, now the trend is this casual but thoughtful approach to dining.
We're going to do a cajun taco, a cajun Wabo, if you will. Me and Sammy Hagar. What do you think of that? It would be really high end, fresh but not expensive tacos and roast meats and grilled Brazilian steakhousey, marinated meats. That's where I'm headed.
You're back on Top Chef as a judge this season. What do you think the show will do to showcase New Orleans and the style of cooking there?
Couple of things on that. I think that the show will showcase the amazing tradition of New Orleans for over 200 years as real cuisine. I think it will show that the foundation of New Orleans cuisine is the Spanish, the French, the African-American and now the Vietnamese cultures. For the last 30 years, the Vietnamese cultures have really influenced the cuisine from ingredients to techniques.
What I tell people is if you can understand the culture, you can understand the food. If you understand the food, you can understand the people. That's what Top Chef is going to get being in New Orleans this year.
· All Coverage of Emeril Lagasse [~ELV~]