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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 5)

Several voices in the audience yell: "The trinity!"

"That's right," says Lagasse with a smile. "Oh, there are some New Orleans girls back there. How you doin', ladies?"

Before adding the vegetables, Lagasse checks the veal shanks. He grabs one with his tongs and holds it for for the camera. "You want a good sear on that," he says. "That will make you happy..."

The audience joins in...

"Happy. Happy."

An hour or so after wrapping up the Lombardy show, after the crew returns from its dinner break, and the third audience of the day has taken their seats, Lagasse bounds back into the studio for show number three of the day, the Father's Day salute later broadcast as Dad's Favorite Dishes. He introduces Mr. John, who's sitting next to Hilda at the counter, and announces he's going to cook some of his dad's favorite food: boiled crabs; andouille and cornbread stuffed pork chops; Southern style greens cooked with bacon, onion, a little molasses, and a bottle of beer ("Trust me!"); and homemade chocolate pudding.

Schmoozing with the audience, he jokes with a gray-haired lady in the front row. The woman, Anne Favazza, came all the way from Darby, Pennsylvania. During one of the commercial breaks, she presents Lagasse with two beautiful ceramic fish platters she made. "We adore him," she explains after the show. "There's nothing phony about him. He's like a son any mother would love."

On the left breast of his chef's jacket, just below the stitched-in green, cursive letters of his logo, Lagasse insisted a pocket be added where usually there is none. In it, he keeps a sheet of paper folded in fourths. Each quadrant captures notes for one of his restaurants. "He's involved in every detail of his restaurants," observes his former banker, David Andignac, senior vice president at Whitney National Bank in New Orleans. "Yet he empowers his people."

Indeed he does. Lagasse stands silently aside, stretching a dish towel throughout all but the last few minutes of the evening pre-meal meeting at Emeril's, which gathers the staff in the restaurant from about 5:30 up to the 6 o'clock first seating. Mauricio Andrade, director of operations at Emeril's, runs the service-oriented meeting, the spirit and particulars of which so impressed Andignac, that he arranged to have a dozen senior managers of the bank sit in on one.

This evening, as always, the meeting starts with applause. Andrade shares the number of "covers," or diners, for today's lunch (100), notes upcoming events in the city that will affect business (Tulane and Loyola graduations later in the month), and then introduces the latest addition to the waitstaff. "Everybody knows Clarence, right? You've seen him in his whites. He's been working in the dish room for a little over a year and has done a tremendous job. I congratulate him on his promotion." Everyone claps loudly, as they have on numerous prior similar occasions. On Emeril Lagasse's payroll, pot scrubbing need not be a dead-end job.


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