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In the Kitchen with Chef EJ Lagasse of Emeril’s | Listen

By: Erin Byers Murray

Emeril’s son, EJ Lagasse, is on his way to earning his own rockstar status

When your father is a renowned restaurant and television chef, it’s only natural that you’d gravitate toward the kitchen. But EJ Lagasse, son of New Orleans’ famed chef Emeril, got serious about cooking early, working in restaurants in his young teens, including summers spent working under chefs Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud in New York before going to culinary school and then to work in Europe. After the pandemic shut down Emeril’s, his father’s Warehouse District flagship open since 1990, the father and son discussed having EJ take it over. Last year, the restaurant went through a complete overhaul, including a redesign of the kitchen, which was stripped down to the studs. Today, the elegant dining room has been transformed into a serene but still fun space where a blues soundtrack sets the tone for guests who choose from two menus, a classic tasting menu, made up of EJ’s take on many of Emeril’s greatest hit dishes, or a seasonal tasting menu, where the team tends to play and riff on new ideas. Earlier this spring, EJ, who recently turned 21, took us on a tour of the striking new space to learn what went into redesigning a glassed-in kitchen where all eyes are on the team.

Chef EJ Lagasse of Emeril’s

The Local Palate: Tell us about stepping into the role of chef patron at Emeril’s. 

EJ Lagasse: It had probably been six or seven years of us saying we eventually wanted to turn Emeril’s into a fine-dining, tasting menu restaurant, sort of returning it to its roots. We originally were going to wait until the 35th anniversary, which is next year, but then 2020 was this reset for us. I was living overseas, in Stockholm at the time, having just graduated from culinary school, and I was planning on being there for a few more years. And then my dad was like, ‘Hey, I want to test out this new concept’ that he and I have been talking about for a while. We had a lot of chats on the phone, and meanwhile, the restaurant reopened in 2021. But it was an adjustment for everybody and didn’t exactly play well. We were in this middle ground. When he called me to say, let’s do this, I said, ‘Could I have carte blanche?’ So truly, you know, I’m now the luckiest guy in the world because he was like, ‘yes.’ Of course, I had to share a PowerPoint presentation for every single decision up front [laughs] so I had to build that trust. 

TLP: How did the design come together? 

EJ Lagasse: I basically drew out this master plan over a space of a couple of months. It was an amalgamation of things, especially since I’ve grown up in the restaurant business—I mean, I’ve always been thinking about this space. [It had been] renovated in 2000, which took it from a formal dining experience to a more casual one. But for us to do this—60 covers a night, tasting menu—we had to go through that again. It took at least four to five months and I became very, very intentional about specific little things—I remember walking the space and I had all of this green tape and I was clipping and taping to show where things were going to move. The layout is very European in style. [I took inspiration from] restaurants like Core by Clare Smyth and Restaurant Frantzen in Stockholm, places that really impacted my cooking. [Pointing] There are two French top burners there and over there is a Japanese charcoal grill. The stove is custom-built. We once had a chef’s counter here but when I was a kid, like five or six years old, if I was in the dining room and somebody dropped a pan, I got really scared because of the noise. So we’ve enclosed the kitchen with this soundproof glass. It gives both the guest and the team a bit of separation but they can still see everything—including how clean it is. 

TLP: How extensive were the renovations? 

EJ Lagasse: This was taken completely down to the studs. I even had the Army Corps of Engineers in to level the whole floor. The only things that are still here from before are the brace for the hood and the columns. But even in spite of that, we were able to do this in about three-and-a-half months, which is wild. We kept thinking, this is never going to get done. But then in about nine days, the stove got delivered, the marble tops went in, the glass went in, and we were cooking in it while people were on ladders around us. And of course the first night, the lights went out right before the guests came in, they were still welding things while we were chopping carrots. We were also waiting on our health inspection and at 5:15 they called to tell us it passed. And then here we were, it was open. It was exciting. [laughs] 

Emerils after the remodel, headed by Chef EJ Lagasse

TLP: Why the green color everywhere? 

EJ Lagasse: It’s Dad’s favorite color. So everything from the jackets and logos to the green tape to the Staub cookware—they do that color just for us. We even have a green egg to match.  

TLP: Any nerves on taking this over and running the show? 

EJ Lagasse: I think it’s a naive confidence I have. I mean, I could get up at a big fundraiser in front of 10,000 people when I was 10 years old. So I’ve really never been nervous. It’s a confidence thing, I’m just wired like that.  

TLP: And how is it having your father as your partner? 

EJ Lagasse: Well, if he doesn’t want something on the menu, it’s not on the menu. [laughs] Seriously though, I think he was a genius because he would never let me work for him, which was so smart because I think that my going out and seeing other things and experiencing other things has really been the driving force behind my ideas. It’s really allowed me to have a different perspective. I am so glad that he did that for me and I thank him for it all the time. Plus, there are things that I’m always going to respect. I mean, it’s his restaurant, right? It’s still his flagship. There’s a legacy to uphold. And he is very much involved in all things. It’s been amazing. As I said earlier, I’m the luckiest guy.

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