Emeril Lagasse Sets Sail With First-Ever Restaurant At Sea

Pastel-colored king cakes, freshwater crawfish, and southern-style home-cooked shrimp and grits—Emeril Lagasse knows New Orleans and he’s feeding the souls of Cajun connoisseurs and gastronomic bon vivant with the signature classics that earned him the reputation as New Orleans’ most prodigious celebrity chef with the launch of his first-ever restaurant at sea. Anchoring aboard Carnival Cruise Line on their newest and most innovative ship, Mardi Gras, Lagasse is sending cruise-goers on a Fat Tuesday adventure, premiering his newest culture-filled outpost, Emeril’s Bistro 1396. Scheduled to slip into the aquatic in summer 2020, Lagasse is presenting diners with the ultimate holiday in the sun complete with a food lovers Nola itinerary.

Haute Living sat down with Lagasse to hear more on opening his first-ever restaurant via the azure seas and reimagining the enchantment of New Orleans on the bejeweled waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Emeril Lagasse Carnival Cruise Line
Emeril Lagasse Sets Sail with First Ever Restaurant at Sea

Photo Credit: Carnival Cruise Line

HL: Tell us about opening your first-ever restaurant at sea on Carnival’s newest ship, Mardi Gras.  

EMERIL LAGASSE: I’ve developed restaurants all over the country, but to create my first restaurant at sea—on a ship named Mardi Gras with its own French Quarter, no less—was an opportunity I simply could not pass up. The Carnival team shares the same passion for quality food and friendly service as I do, and Mardi Gras promises to be a game-changer, so I’m really excited to be a part of this huge industry moment and to bring a taste of New Orleans to Mardi Gras’ guests with Emeril’s Bistro 1396.

HL: Located in the heart of the ship’s French Quarter zone, your outpost coined Emeril’s Bistro 1396 will showcase New Orleans gastronomic traditional fare. As a New Orleans native, what signature dishes can we expect to see on the menu? 

EL: Much like my land-based restaurants, Emeril’s 1396 will have many of my signature dishes and Creole favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu is wide-ranging and includes my barbecue shrimp, oyster and cochon de lait po-boys, muffaletta sandwiches, fresh seafood ceviche, roasted duck & Andouille sausage gumbo, jambalaya, and complements such as Creole potato salad with diced scallions, red beans and “jazz-man” rice. Breakfast offerings will feature classics like shrimp and grits and a shrimp Creole omelet, and New Orleans classic Bananas Foster and lemon ice box pie will be available for dessert because, why ignore your sweet tooth?

Carnival Cruise Line's Mardi Gras
Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras

HL: After testing and trying so many Jambalayas, what’s your favorite version? 

EL: The one that I’ll be serving on Mardi Gras, of course! In all seriousness though, I think the trick to the perfect jambalaya is finding a balance of spice. Like anything, there’s a fine line between hitting the right flavor blend and overdoing it—and that’s especially the case with jambalaya. My signature jambalaya is rich in flavor with shrimp, chicken and sausage simmered in chopped vegetables, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, chicken stock, and lots of delicious spices. It’s complex in flavor but simple enough to be enjoyed time and time again. I can’t wait for guests on Mardi Gras to check it out!

HL: Who first inspired you to start cooking and what is it about New Orleans that’s so magical? 

EL: My interest for food began at a young age—growing up in the kitchen with my mother Hilda, I quickly became infatuated with cooking and the way ingredients combined to create meals that my friends, family and loved ones could all share together. As a teenager, I worked at a Portuguese bakery and then went to Johnson & Wales University where I began to pursue my culinary career. Then, after spending some time in France mastering my craft, I worked at several fine-dining restaurants in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, before ultimately ending up in New Orleans with Dick and Ella Brennan at the legendary Commander’s Palace. I stayed there for nearly eight years before venturing out on my own—the Brennan’s were my first and biggest inspirations. The lessons I learned from them have stuck with me throughout my career, and I’ll always have an appreciation for them for exposing me to the wonderful, culture-filled magic of New Orleans. There really is no place like it where food, music and life are embraced to the absolute fullest—that city has made me the man I am today.

HL: How do you plan to manifest that same magic at sea? 

EL: Food is my passion; it’s ingrained in who I am. Every time I open a restaurant or even make a meal for that matter, I approach it with a great deal of purpose and pride. It’s all about creating great food and great memories, and I know that this will be replicated on board Mardi Gras, as well. I’ve been so excited about this collaboration, and it’s been so gratifying working with the Carnival team who know how great food and a wonderful environment can create shared moments that last forever. I’ve been a restaurateur for decades now, but this will be the first time I can give guests a taste of New Orleans on the high seas which is pretty cool.

Emeril's Bistro 1396
Emeril’s Bistro 1396

Photo Credit: Carnival Cruise Line

HL: New Orleans is a city of rich everlasting history. How are you able to create a new era for gastronomic creativity while still lending homage to traditional Creole fare?

EL: That’s something I try to create in all of my restaurants—I want to transport diners to the rich culture of New Orleans but still find surprise and wonder in my dishes. I believe I’ve accomplished that by staying true to the many flavor profiles from New Orleans while still incorporating my individuality and embracing new ideas and pushing the boundaries while never losing respect for its history.