By Ann Cipperly
Emeril Lagasse was the keynote speaker for the Women’s Philanthropy Board’s 17th annual Spring Symposium and Luncheon April 9 at the Hotel at Auburn University. Emeril was introduced by Hans van der Reijden, CEO of Ithaka Hospitality Partners. Sid James Nakhijavan is the director of the WPB.
Dr. June Henton, dean of the College of Human Sciences, who is retiring this summer, was recognized for her 34 years of service, with the WPB naming their scholarship fund in her honor. Dr. Henton is the founder of Universities Fighting World Hunger. She has had an amazing career at Auburn.
Emeril is the chef/proprietor of 11 restaurants, has authored 19 cookbooks and hosted more than 2,000 shows for the Food Network. In 2002, he established the Emeril Lagasse Foundation to support children’s educational programs that inspire and mentor young people through the culinary arts, nutrition, healthy eating and life skills.
The chef began his program talking about growing up in Fall River, Mass. His father is French Canadian, and his mother is Portuguese. “Since my mother ruled the house,” he said, “we grew up Portuguese.”
His first inspiration for cooking came from his mother, Hilda, when he was 7 years old. He stood on a foot stool while she taught him how to make his first dish, vegetable soup, using ingredients from their garden.
As they sat at the table to dine on the soup, he remembers it was the beginning of a bond sharing meals and creating memories.
After school he worked in a Portuguese bakery. He began by washing dishes. “They took a liking to me,” he remembers, “and began teaching me the master arts of bread making and Portuguese specialty desserts.”
In his limited free time, Emeril played music and thought he was pretty good. “I got pulled away from a regular high school and put into a culinary school. I realized they needed a leader of the band.”
After graduating from high school, he turned down a full scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music to attend cooking school. “My mom wasn’t happy,” he said, “but it turned out pretty good right now. It was tough to persuade her that I wanted to cook.”
Emeril graduated from Johnson and Wales University. After working in many restaurants and traveling mostly in France, he had the opportunity to take over as chef at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.
He was 26 years old when Ella and her brother Dick Brennan hired him “I was pretty hot headed,” Emeril recalls. “I was determined to make it a better restaurant than when I took over.”
Ella taught him how to run a fine dining restaurant and mentored him every day. She became like his second mom. On Saturdays they would read cookbooks together and would try to understand how to raise the bar, making the dishes better than the day before. That always stuck with him.
“During my time at Commander’s,” Emeril added. “Ella taught me an amazing, endless amount of things in the hospitality business. It was not only about cooking but being in charge of a restaurant and being in charge of incredible hospitality and to give that hospitality to the guests.”
After about a year into his job as a young chef, Emeril was given a piece of paper by Miss Ella. “Needless to say I had a temper, not wisdom yet,” he said. “She handled me this piece of paper and said read it later not now.”
He could hardly wait to read it. The note said, “Tomorrow, please leave your ego at home.”
That really stuck with him. “I learned an incredible lesson about that little piece of paper. She cared about me and wanted me to learn. She mentored me and taught me how to give back to people. It did not matter if it was the staff, customers or fellow colleagues, she taught me how to help people.
“She taught me in life anybody can take the short cut, but when you do things right, you will have established a foundation, a foundation you can take with you every place you go and build on. That was a real important lesson I learned.”
While at Commander’s Palace, he received many awards and accolades.
After seven and a half years at Commander’s, Emeril decided he wanted to open his own restaurant. He fell in love with New Orleans because of the food, people, hospitality and music.
Currently, he has 11 restaurants. Home base is New Orleans, where he has four restaurants. Others are in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania and Florida. He will have a restaurant on a Carnival Cruise Ship.
In 1993, he was approached about doing a pilot and being involved in a television channel that would be 24 hours of food, wine, shopping, etc. Emeril Live became one of the top television shows in America, named one of the top five. He was nominated for seven Emmy Awards and received three.
In 2002, he and his wife started the Emeril Lagasse Foundation with a simple mission to inspire, mentor and enable children from disadvantaged situations to reach their fullest potential.
“Mentoring is at the heart of my philosophy today,” he said. “Through the foundation, we have awarded over 12 million dollars in grants that have helped children, inspiring and mentoring. Through grant programs we have provided support to non-profit organizations throughout the country.”
The foundation funds a variety of projects, including at St. Michael Special School, training for at-risk youth at Café Reconcile and an outdoor classroom, gardens, fresh foods cafeteria and teaching kitchen at Edible Schoolyard, among other projects.
At Emeril Cultural Center students increase independence by learning to grocery shop, prepare and serve meals.
In 2013, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Hospitality Center opened to provide a training program for at risk youth, while the Foundation’s Culinary Arts Studio offers a four-year culinary arts program.
The foundation hosts two fundraisers: Boudin, Bourbon and Beer and Carnivale du Vin. The foundation’s programs have helped get 30,000 kids get off the streets in New Orleans.
“I truly believe you have to give in order to receive,” says Emeril. “No matter what stage of your craft, you have to mentor people.”
Following is a selection of Emeril’s recipes printed by permission. No reprinting is allowed without permission.
My Easy Barbecue Shrimp
Prep Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 1 1/2 hours Yield: 4 first-course servings
24 large head-on shrimp (about 2 pounds), peeled and deveined, tails left on, shells and head reserved
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
2 teaspoons Emeril’s Creole Seasoning or other Creole seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups water
3/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, preferably homemade
Juice from 2 lemons (about 1⁄4 cup)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
Jalapeño Biscuits, for serving
In a medium bowl, toss the shrimp with half of the cracked pepper, 1 teaspoon of the Creole seasoning, and the rosemary until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add the shrimp shells and heads and cook, stirring a few times, for 3 minutes. Add the wine, water, Worcestershire, lemon juice, onion, garlic, and hot sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and let gently bubble for 45 minutes. Strain through a coarse strainer; you should have about 1 cup of barbecue base.
Heat a 14-inch skillet over high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, then the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes, searing on both sides. Pour in the barbecue base, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the shrimp are cooked through, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat; whisk in the butter, one piece at a time, not adding another until the previous piece is fully incorporated in the sauce.
Transfer the shrimp to a serving platter or small individual plates. Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and serve immediately with the Jalapeño Biscuits.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
This simple but rich and decadent peanut butter pie is always a hit. At Emeril’s New Orleans, it is served with caramel sauce on top. The best thing about this pie is that it can be made completely in advance, leaving you free to entertain guests.
Prep Time: 15 minutes Total Time: 1 hour plus time for pie to chill Yield: 1 pie
1 1/2 cups crushed chocolate cookies
1 cup peanut butter
1/4 pound cream cheese
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons chopped peanuts, plus more for garnish
2 cups heavy cream
Caramel Sauce, for serving
Chocolate Sauce, for serving
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl, combine the cookie crumbs with 1/4 cup of the peanut butter. Combine the mixture thoroughly and then press firmly onto the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake the crust for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool on a wire rack.
In an electric mixture with a whip attachment, whip the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the remaining peanut butter, milk and nuts and whip for 1 minute. Turn the peanut butter mixture into a mixing bowl. Whip 2 cups of the heavy cream and fold into the peanut butter mixture. Pour the filling into the springform pan over the cooled crust and refrigerate for 2 hours or until the filling is completely set.
Remove the pie from the refrigerator and run a thin knife around the inside edge of the springform pan. Gently remove the edge of the pan from the pie, and then place the pie on a serving plate. Cut the pie into serving pieces using a warm knife. Serve drizzled with Caramel Sauce or Chocolate Sauce, as desired, and garnish with the extra chopped peanuts.
Chicken with Champagne and 40 Cloves of Garlic
Prep Time: 40 minutes Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes Yield: 6 to 8 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 to 12 large bone-in chicken thighs (about 5 pounds)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
40 cloves garlic, peeled (3 whole heads)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 cup Champagne or other dry sparkling or white wine
2 cups Rich Chicken Stock or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
6 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil. Season the chicken on both sides with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Working in batches so as to not crowd the pot, sear the chicken, skin side down, until golden brown, about 6 minutes per batch. Brown briefly on the second side, then transfer the browned chicken to a plate.
Add the garlic to the pot and cook, stirring, until lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, Champagne, broth, and thyme, and return the chicken to the pot, nestling the pieces down into the liquid. Make sure some of the garlic is sitting on top of the chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pot, and place in the oven. Cook, stirring once midway to ensure even cooking, until the chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Transfer the chicken and some of the garlic to a platter, and cover to keep warm. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs.
In a medium bowl, mash the flour and butter together to form a smooth paste. Slowly whisk 1⁄2 cup of the hot juices from the pot into the paste until smooth, then add this mixture to the pot along with 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and whisk to combine. Don’t worry if some of the garlic cloves get smashed—they will help to thicken and enrich the sauce. Cover and cook over medium heat until the gravy has thickened, 10 to 20 minutes longer. Season the sauce with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper, or more to taste. Serve the chicken with the gravy
Emeril’s Classic Seafood Gumbo
Some form of gumbo is always on the menu at Emeril’s Restaurant. This classic seafood version, which is chock-full of shrimp, fish, and oysters swimming in a broth richly flavored with gumbo crabs, is always a hit.
Prep Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 2 to 2 1/2 hours Yield: 3 quarts, 8 to 10 servings
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
3/4 cup finely chopped green bell peppers
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced garlic
One 12-ounce bottle amber beer
6 cups Shrimp Stock
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 pound gumbo crabs (about 2)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound white fish fillets, such as catfish, grouper, snapper, or sole
1 tablespoon Emeril’s Original Essence
2 cups shucked oysters with their liquor
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped tender green onion tops
White Rice, for serving
Place an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, and add the oil. Allow the oil to heat for about 5 minutes, then add the flour to the pot. Stir the oil and flour together with a wooden spoon to form a roux. Lower the heat to medium low and continue to stir the roux for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the color of milk chocolate. Add the onions, bell peppers, and celery to the roux and stir to blend. Stir the vegetables for 5 minutes, then add the garlic. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds before adding the beer and Shrimp Stock to the pot. Season the gumbo with the thyme, bay leaves, gumbo crabs, Worcestershire, salt, and cayenne. Bring the gumbo to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer the gumbo for 1 hour, skimming the foam and any oil that rises to the surface.
Season both the shrimp and the catfish with 1 1/2 teaspoons Essence. Stir the shrimp and fish into the gumbo and cook for 2 minutes. Add the oysters to the pot and cook, stirring often, for an additional 5 minutes. Taste the gumbo and season if necessary.
Garnish with the parsley and green onions and serve in shallow bowls over white rice.
Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus time to make the chicken stock Total Time: About 3 1/2 hours Yield: 4 1/2 quarts, 8 to 10 servings
1 recipe Rich Chicken Stock, with reserved chicken meat
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 medium onions, chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more to taste
1 1/2 pounds andouille sausage, cut into 1⁄3-inch-thick rounds
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Cooked white rice, for serving
Louisiana hot sauce, for serving
Filé powder, for serving (optional)
Make the Rich Chicken Stock and reserve the shredded chicken meat and broth as the recipe instructs. If using it the same day, let the broth cool before starting the gumbo.
With the oil and flour, make a roux the color of milk chocolate following these directions for Making a Roux.
Immediately add the onions, celery, garlic, bell pepper, cayenne, and sausage, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. If the broth has cooled by this time, add it to the roux mixture along with the salt, black pepper, and bay leaf, and bring to a gentle simmer. Continue to simmer, skimming any foam or excess oil that comes to the top, until the sauce is flavorful and thickened to the desired consistency, and any trace of floury taste is gone, about 2 hours.
Add the chicken, green onions, and parsley to the gumbo and continue to simmer about 30 minutes longer. Don’t stir too much or the chicken will fall apart into shreds. Adjust the thickness, if necessary, by adding water or more broth. Adjust the seasoning with salt and cayenne as needed.
Serve the gumbo in shallow bowls over hot white rice. Have the hot sauce and filé at the table for guests to use to their liking.
Note: In Louisiana, everyone has his or her own preference when it comes to gumbo thickness. This one is about middle of the road, which is the way I prefer it—not too brothy and not too thick. It is easy to adjust the thickness by using less broth for a thicker gumbo and/or adding more for a thinner consistency.