Emeril Lagasse Reveals His Travel & Culinary Bucket Lists And What He Loves Most About Returning To Massachusetts

There are chefs and then there is the king of all chefs.

Emeril Lagasse has been tantalizing our taste buds ever since he first emerged on the food scene in the early 1990s. The Fall River native left Massachusetts in the 80s after training at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island (followed by a brief stint in France) and headed to New Orleans where he landed a TV show and began encouraging home chefs to “kick it up a notch.”

Today, the rock star chef has numerous cookbooks, an endless amount of TV shows, Emerilware cookware, a restaurant empire and guest spots on some of the most popular shows to his credit.

Emeril LagassePhoto Credit: Deveney PR

We caught up yesterday with Lagasse to chat about his travel and culinary bucket lists, how the restaurant scene in New Orleans compares to Boston and where he likes to go when he returns home to Massachusetts.

What has been the most challenging experience for you as a chef?

I think the real challenge is keeping it fresh and exciting not only with the staff, but you have to keep pushing it, creating it and making them a part of it. That keeps the staff motivated, which is reflected in the menu and in turn that experience is delivered to the customer.

Who has been your personal culinary inspiration along your road to success?

My biggest inspiration doesn’t even cook. Ella Brennan (New Orleans restaurateur who specializes in Creole cuisine) taught me about food and people. From a cultural perspective, I have a lot of colleagues and friends like Daniel Boulud, the late Charlie Trotter and Boston‘s Lydia Shire, who have been trying to push the limits all of the time.

What places are on your travel and culinary bucket list?

I’d like to get into Asia a little bit more. I love Vietnamese food. I have a strong cultural influence in New Orleans with Vietnamese people and love the flavors of that culture. I always love going to Portugal and Spain. Spain is very different in the north than it is in the south. It’s a great country for food. There are a lot of great things happening right now in Australia. I went to Sweden last year and was impressed what they are doing there. I ate everything from reindeer to great seafood. It is really evolving. I also spent a week in Shanghai chasing soup dumplings.

With New England roots and New Orleans surrounded by water, I am very inspired by seafood, shrimping and oysters. I have a new restaurant that opened in northwest Florida on Miramar Beach called Emeril’s Coastal Italian. The menu is super influenced by both the ocean and Amalfi coast.

Where was the best dish you ever ate and what was it?

That is a really tough question. I have great memories of a salmon dish in Switzerland and several dishes with Charlie Trotter. He was a good friend, and he and I did a lot of cooking and traveling together.

Favorite places to go when you come home to Massachusetts?

I love to go to places where I can get a real lobster roll. I love Ipswich clams and those shacks on Cape Cod. It is all very memorable to me. I love baked scrod. There was a place I would go when I was little for fish and chips that was just real. The biggest influence in New England is the ocean and offering the freshest seafood. I love stuffies. We have them on our menu, but we make them with crawfish, clams and caldo verde sauce. They fly out of the kitchen.

You have been in New Orleans for nearly 40 years. How does the city’s restaurant scene compare to Boston’s?

It;s very different. It’s not just about high end restaurants in New Orleans. You could go into a po’boy shop where everything is just fresh and real. The scene in New Orleans has changed dramatically since Katrina. Before Katrina, there were 800 or 900 restaurants, but now there are close to 1,500 with less people in the city. In the last five year, the restaurant scene here has exploded from a different dimension. It used to be just Creole or Cajun; now there are Italian, Thai and French restaurants. That’s more like Boston. We don’t have a Chinatown though like Boston does, which has incredible food. You can’t get that in New Orleans.

With 12 restaurants to your credit, any plans to bring your famous cooking to Boston?

We have had several conversations about that over the years, but it has never been sort of the right time or the right deal, so it hasn’t worked out, but who knows what the future will bring.

Tell us about your most proud accomplishment with the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.

I spend a lot of time mentoring, cooking and having fun with the kids. We have a passion and drive to make people happy. My wife and I started the foundation 15 years ago and it has given a lot of opportunities to children. We have built a school and a performing arts center and have given close to a million meals out to after school kids. We are doing a lot of nice things. It all wouldn’t be possible without a lot of very generous people who support the foundation.

Emeril LagassePhoto Credit: Deveney PR