Auction Napa Valley, Bam! – Interview with Chef Emeril Lagasse

Chef Emeril Lagasse is known just as well for his culinary accomplishments as he is for his charisma. The regional James Beard Award winning chef is tasked with cooking dinner for what is certain to be a discerning crowd at Auction Napa Valley. Set in the picturesque Meadowoods, the celebrity chef sounded off on his plans to “kick it up a notch” for this very special event.

How did you begin your career in the culinary field?

I grew up being both a musician (drummer) and a passionate cook. I worked at a bakery when I was 13 but even before that I was playing drums in a local Portuguese band. I was awarded a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music and ended up turning that down to pursue my passion for cooking. I love food and making people happy.

What restaurants did you work at prior to opening your own?

When I was 25, I got a call from Ella Brennan of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. She interviewed me for months and ultimately brought me there…What an amazing experience.

Tell us about the different components of the menu you are creating for the Auction Napa Valley dinner?

I love the very clean richness of the fat on a Colorado lamb and the clean, sweetness of the meat. To me, this meat cries for earthy components. 

Pacific Salmon Crudo Citrus, Radish, Micro Fennel, Vanilla Bean, Extra Virgin Olive Oil I always try to cook around regions and seasons. There is no better fish than a fresh salmon from the Pacific and that is what I will start with. Working off of the fatty profile of our main component, I wanted to add some comparable as well as contrasting flavors to help balance the dish. The spice in the radish and the acid in the citrus smooth out the richness of the salmon. The vanilla bean adds a nice sweet aromatic, almost floral character and the fennel contributes a great spicy, vegetal quality.

Roasted Colorado Lamb Rack Black Truffle, Guanciale, Field Peas, Shallot, Potato Puree I love the very clean richness of the fat on a Colorado lamb and the clean, sweetness of the meat. To me, this meat cries for earthy components. Field peas are a great source of a subtle, sweet, earthiness to complement the meat. A little saltiness from the guanciale, sweet shallots and smooth potato, combined with black truffle to make all of these flavors work together in an understated harmony.

Fresh Strawberry Trifle Lemon Curd, Pound Cake, Mint Syrup What fruit screams summer more than strawberries? The fruit itself, when picked ripe, has the perfect balance of fruit, acidity and sweetness. From here you really just want a few simple flavors to complement. Rich vanilla poundcake, creamy lemon curd to balance and mirror the natural acidity of the fruit and mint. The mint adds a certain, rounded spiciness.

When you’re not at your own restaurants, where can we find you dining?

Dining at home with my family is the most common place you’ll find me.

What’s your favorite drink?

I’m a big green tea drinker. With meals, it really depends on what I’m eating but these days I’m really enjoying Patz & Hall Winery in Napa, Meiomi, Au Bon Climat and Domaine Serene wines.

What’s your favorite pastime?

Beyond spending time with my family, fishing is a passion of mine. I love to fish out on the Gulf when I’m at my place in Destin, FL.