Emeril Lagasse Doesn't Want To Watch Your Cooking Show

Emeril Lagasse
Emeril dishes about the state of modern cooking shows, the difficulty of opening up a restaurant in New York, and his new show 'Emeril Eats the World.' Geraldine Agoncillo

Recently, at his home in New York, Emeril Lagasse was baffled by what he saw on TV. He came across a few cooking shows. Then a few more. "There were seven different networks with seven different competition shows about cooking," he remembers with a mix of wonder and disgust. "It was moms against kids. It was kids against kids. It was adults against adults. It was uncles against aunts. I mean, it was unbelievable."

Lagasse's astonishment is curious, as in many ways he is to blame for it. After his breakout success on the Food Network, Lagasse turned his name into a brand, slapping it on everything from cookware to pasta sauces to "anti-fatigue chef's mats." He had restaurants. He had catchphrases. He had an ill-fated NBC sitcom based on his life. It all made Lagasse a household name, but his success helped shift the industry's focus away from the actual craft of cooking, in favor of reality-TV drama.

Perhaps in response to this, Lagasse's latest show, Eat the World With Emeril Lagasse (which premiered on Amazon in September), has him leaving the hot lights of his TV studio kitchen to travel the world exploring the culinary roots of classic dishes. And no, he doesn't say "Bam!" once.

In many ways you invented modern cooking entertainment. What do you think of how it has evolved since you first started out on the Food Network?

It's a little sad for me to see so many competition shows now, and not as many about real cooking. Somebody that really wants to know how to make sauerbraten or somebody that wants to confit a duck leg and make duck confit salad, there's not a lot of that anymore. There's very little of it, actually. I don't know where it's going. I wish I had a magic ball that could tell me. I did Top Chef because it's a real show. Those young cooks are really cooking and really earning their advancement. There is no B.S. There's no, 'Well she's a blonde, she's a redhead.' It's real, hard-ass cooking.

How has the mainstreaming of food and cooking culture changed the restaurant industry and the expectations of the average American?

The restaurant industry is not easy. I live in New York City part time, and I can't believe how many restaurants have closed there in the last six months. People's expectations are much higher because their palates are more sophisticated. We went through a phase 20 or 30 years ago where people got dressed up to go out to eat. They wore a sport coat and most of time, a tie. Maybe it was a special occasion, maybe not.

Today, people want to have that quality experience, but they don't want to have all the fuss. They don't want to get dressed up. Their jeans probably cost more than a suit anyhow. People want a lot more casual offerings, they want really good food and service, but they don't want all the hoopla. There are some people who want that stuff, but the majority of palates in America have changed, in a sense getting simpler, but in a sense their expectations are much higher.

Emeril Lagasse Doesn't Want To Watch Your Cooking Show | Culture