With a hit TV cooking show and a growing restaurant empire, chef Emeril Lagasse's career is simmering.
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Long after the Exxon Valdez incident, Lagasse relaxes for a few minutes on the customer's side of the food bar. A passing waiter asks, "Chef, would you like something to drink?" He requests a thimble of red wine and makes a face when the glass appears two-thirds full. Customers come up and say hello and thank him for a great meal. It's a Monday night, the slowest night of the week, and food is still coming out of the kitchen at 10:30. The previous Monday, Lagasse left the restaurant at 2:30 in the morning.
Many of his employees, past and present, express concern about the unrelenting pace he keeps. "I worry about him," says Anne Kearney, who left Emeril's to open her own restaurant, Peristyle's. "I know the toll that 70- to 80-hour weeks take on me. And I don't have to get on a plane and fly to New York."
Lagasse shoos away any talk of burnout. "One big reason I do what I do is there's no two days alike. It's not work for me. It's my life. My passion. I have 450 employees. I'm getting ready to add another 250 employees in the next year. I feel great. I'm healthy. And I'm having a blast. I can't wait for tomorrow."
Off camera, he misses an obvious opportunity to slip in one of his catch phrases. No matter. His familiar words echo anyway.
Happy. Happy. Happy.
John Grossmann is a frequent contributor to Inc., Sports Illustrated and other national magazines.