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Recipe for Success

With a hit TV cooking show and a growing restaurant empire, chef Emeril Lagasse's career is simmering.
John Grossman
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 4)

Lagasse soon addressed another untended detail by bringing his personal love of cigars into the restaurant. "Shortly after we opened, I realized that cigars would help complete a fine dining experience," he says, adding that in the early 1990s cigars were still taboo in most restaurants, unfairly so, he felt. "Because some people don't drink, does that make a bar taboo? What started for local, special customers, long before it was cool to smoke cigars, has evolved into a great part of our dining experience. People know when to come if they want to smoke--which means they don't make reservations for 6 o'clock, they come at 10 o'clock, or there's always the bar option.

"Our January cigar dinner is sold out by the time we announce it. We do food and wine pairings around the cigars," says Lagasse. He was amazed at how similar the pairings were. "As you do with wine, as you'd begin with lighter-styled, lighter-bodied whites, then into more full-bodied whites, then into lighter, crisp reds, then building to the crescendo of deep reds, Cabernets, Bordeaux, then finishing with sweet, the sample principles apply to the characteristics of cigars, going from a lighter smoke to a mild smoke to a more medium then a more full-bodied smoke, crescendoing into like a blowout, with brandy and Cognac and a cigar that you know might really blow your brain out."

Only rarely does he slow down long enough to himself indulge. "I smoke maybe one a week, but as many as 25 in the right week. When I'm fishing, or relaxing in the hammock, I'll smoke five cigars a day."

His favorites include El Rey del Mundo, Cohiba Siglo V ("light chocolate, rich with accents of berry, which I really like") and the Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story and Fuente Fuente OpusX. "I love the Fuentes," he says. "I think they stand for quality; what they make is wonderful. The wrapper, the blend, they've just got a great touch."

Back on the New York set, Lagasse holds a prepared tray of pumpkin ravioli. They stand on their ring-like bases looking like tiny Papal hats. "You get bored, you can have a chess game," he jokes, before dumping the ravioli into a pot of boiling water. He asks for some "sizzling sage music" and adds several whole sage leaves to a skillet awash in melted butter.

He drains the pasta and tests it by feeling it with his fingers. "Don't try this at home. You'll get like eighth-degree burns." He pronounces the ravioli done. "Trust me. I got like a degree in this."

Into the awaiting skillet go the ravioli.

His next dish is osso bucco. Lagasse displays a humongous veal shank, seasons it, dredges it in seasoned flour, and then adds it to three others already browning in olive oil.

"Big fancy cooking word coming up. Write it down: mise en place." Lagasse purses his lips like an Old Milwaukee drinker forced to taste Campari and takes a couple mincing steps backwards. Then he translates. "What that means is, basically, 'have your act together.'

"Mirepoix. Another big fancy name. Write it down: Carrots. Onions. Celery. Now if it was bell peppers, it would be...."

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