Unless you've been living under a rock for the last three decades or refrain from all forms of food-related entertainment, chances are you're familiar with Emeril Lagasse. If you discovered him in the early 1990s, then you probably remember his short-lived shows such as "How to Boil Water" or "Emeril & Friends," even though these programs weren't exactly hits on Food Network. Or perhaps you remember him from "Essence of Emeril," which eventually became his ticket to Food Network fame and celebrity chef status in 1995. Since then, Lagasse has become a household name, and while he may not have the television presence he once did, foodie fans will still recognize him from his frequent appearances on shows such as "The Rachael Ray Show" and "Good Morning America."
With such fame comes a wide fanbase, lots of followers, and critics, too. Some of them happen to come from within Lagasse's Food Network family and cohort of celebrity chefs. Over the years, quite a few notable names in the business have shared their thoughts about him, both good and bad. Some have formed opinions after working alongside him, and others made up their minds long before they actually met him. Interested to hear their takes from the inside? Here's what celebrity chefs have said about the great Lagasse.
Anthony Bourdain was not someone known to mince his words. In fact, his no-BS attitude is part of what made him famous. He called it like it was and brought a realness to food television that isn't often seen among buttoned-up chefs who fear inciting the rage of the TV-watching masses. When it came to Lagasse, Bourdain didn't pull any punches, especially when writing his non-fiction hits "Kitchen Confidential" and "A Cook's Tour." As an extensive piece on Bourdain's career published by Eater detailed, in the former, Bourdain referenced Lagasse as "fuzzy little Emeril," and more or less considered Lagasse and his ilk to be sell-outs for television audiences.
However, as Bourdain's own television presence grew, so did his empathy for Lagasse and similar chefs. Eventually, when a newer, updated version of "A Cook's Tour" came out, Bourdain wrote that Lagasse was "not such a bad bastard after all" and "a real chef once." He was able to draw parallels between both their lives and careers and recognized the level of hard work and responsibility Lagasse needed in order to run his empire. It didn't hurt that Bourdain admired the fact that he'd heard Lagasse was "good in a bar fight."
Guy Fieri came to the Food Network more than a decade after Emeril Lagasse, winning the channel's "Next Food Network Star" in 2006. Since then, he's practically taken over the network and launched myriad shows and spin-offs that take up a large chunk of the viewing hours. He's arguably built an empire that could rival Lagasse's and, in fact, their net worths are estimated to be similar; both Fieri and Lagasse are worth a cool $70 million.
That fact aside, Fieri still seems to hold a great respect for his Food Network predecessor. In an article in The Washington Post, Fieri called Lagasse "the Elvis of food television," and described his entertainment style as "a full-on culinary rock concert." However, Fieri isn't just impressed by Lagasse's TV presence or audience appeal. He also mentioned the chef's kindness, recalling a time when Lagasse loaned Fieri his private plane so that he could travel from Mexico back to the States to be with his wife following the death of her father. He called it "the neatest thing in the world." While Fieri mentioned that he and Lagasse didn't know each other very well at the time, the two have gone on to collaborate and appear on projects together, including on an episode of Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives."
Gail Simmons may not have the star power that Guy Fieri and Emeril Lagasse possess, but she's more than qualified to comment on the latter's influence in the food entertainment industry. Simmons is now most well-known for her role as a judge on "Top Chef," but she has a long history in the culinary media world, with experience in food writing and content, as well as managing restaurant events. She has also made special appearances on a range of food shows and segments on programs like "Today," "The Good Dish," "Iron Chef Canada," and more.
In an interview with Garden & Gun, Simmons said that Lagasse "made cooking sexy," pointing to the way in which he brought a certain masculine attitude into the kitchen, breaking down the stereotype that still existed in the 1990s that home cooking wasn't exactly a man's domain. As she described, "He was a manly man: 'Throw on some whiskey! Kick it up a notch!'" Perhaps she wasn't the only woman who viewed his programs with this ideal in mind.
While both are household names, Martha Stewart definitely has an edge on Emeril Lagasse. Her broad empire is estimated to be worth about $550 million (though that number climbed to $1 billion during her brief prison stint). With more than 75 books, a range of products bearing her name and face, and a massive media company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Stewart knows what she's talking about. When she declared that Lagasse was responsible for making television cooking programs mainstream, it rang true (via AL.com).
In fact, Stewart believes in Lagasse's television presence to the extent that she's invested heavily in his career. In 2008, as AL.com reported, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia purchased, more or less, Lagasse's entire brand, including television shows, cookbooks, and products, for $45 million. Lagasse also noted that the purchase brought about a partnership of sorts, resulting in appearances in Stewart's multiple magazines. Stewart and Lagasse's relationship continues on today, but in a slightly different format. The Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia brand was sold multiple times in recent history, including to Marquee Brands in 2019 for $175 million. As of earlier this year, Stewart and Lagasse were still producing content under Marquee Brands and working on shows for The Roku Channel.
The early days of food television were filled with shows that were all pretty formulaic in nature. The host would stand in their kitchen and make a few recipes, detailing every step of the way in a calm voice, sometimes even sharing personal anecdotes with the audience as they went along. The viewing experience was informative and kind of boring if we're honest. These shows have their place, but they're also not exactly getting the primetime TV slots. Instead, those hours go to the fast-paced, intriguing, exciting shows — and, according to chef Aarón Sánchez, those shows have Emeril Lagasse to thank for their existence.
Sánchez told Saveur that the first cooking television shows were "dump-and-stir shows. You get the recipe, you put the things in the pot, you stir. Emeril added flair. He was like the OG, you know? We always looked up to him for that." As so many other celebrity chefs and culinary experts have said, Lagasse had a special verve that you didn't get from other chefs on television at the time. He brought in that sexy, rockstar appeal to live studio audiences, changing what food television looked like for good. Today, Sánchez continues to be involved with the chef and is a member of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.
In the same vein as Gail Simmons, Ruth Reichl may not be immediately recognizable to the average food television viewer, but she's certainly a queen to any foodie fan who's delved beyond the exterior layer of mainstream personalities like Guy Fieri and Martha Stewart. Reichl's long career includes work as a cookbook author, food writer and editor, restaurant critic, restaurant owner, and novelist. She's also received multiple James Beard awards and has made her share of television appearances on shows like "Top Chef Masters." So, much like Simmons, if anyone is qualified to weigh in on Emeril Lagasse, Reichl has the experience to back up her comments.
In an interview for Saveur, Reichl described Lagasse as a groundbreaker, paving the way for food television and the celebrity chefs that would come after him. She elaborated, "Emeril was something new: a smart, funny chef who was showing people that chefs didn't have to be snooty or cook complicated food. Emeril was the first to go on TV and say, 'This is what a chef looks like today.' He opened the door for everyone else."
In 2016, Emeril Lagasse launched a show on Amazon Prime called "Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse." He traveled around the world with some of his celebrity chef friends and set off on culinary adventures, for a program that was part-travel, part-food. It's a combination that's been done many other times, but it was the first time Lagasse tried this type of setup. Among the guests on the show were Mario Batali, José Andrés, and, in Sweden, Marcus Samuelsson — and the latter had quite a lot of compliments for the chef.
In an Esquire article, Samuelsson starts by calling Lagasse "the chef that brought us into pop culture," and referred to him as both a mentor and a friend. However, Samuelsson, who grew up in Sweden, was quick to note the importance of the show and Lagasse's presence on a more personal level. He said, "I couldn't think of a better ambassador than [Lagasse] to tell the world, 'Hey, [Sweden is] doing it. It's delicious.' Sweden is [a] very hidden gem and he can share that." "Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse" endured for one season and six, 30-minute episodes, ultimately fading away into the TV history.
Darnell Ferguson is a relative newcomer to the celebrity chef scene. However, you may have caught him on "Chopped," "Guy's Grocery Games," or "Tournament of Champions." He's also appeared on "The Rachael Ray Show" and "Beat Bobby Flay." Today, Ferguson owns several restaurants, too — and his journey to stardom all began with Emeril Lagasse.
According to an interview with FSR magazine, Darnell watched "Emeril Live" and, as soon as he saw Lagasse, knew that it was his "destiny" to follow in the chef's footsteps. His journey was a winding road that encompassed working as a chef at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, time spent in and out of jail, homelessness, launching his own restaurants, and then expanding his restaurant empire throughout the East and to Las Vegas.
Eventually, he began appearing on television, which led to Ferguson meeting his hero. A surprise appearance by Lagasse when Ferguson was on "The Rachael Ray Show" brought the two together. He told Rachael Ray that his career "all started with me watching him on TV and him living out who he was first. If he didn't do that I may not be where I was at today."
Speaking of Rachael Ray, there have been rumors that she and Emeril Lagasse had a less-than-ideal relationship. Lagasse was already firmly cemented into the Food Network lineup when Ray came on the scene. She actually met him before her Food Network show became official when she appeared on "Emeril Live" and unwittingly caused a kitchen fire. Maybe that mishap set a bad tone for the relationship because, shortly after, Ray started up "30 Minute Meals" and Lagasse got the boot from Food Network. Then, Lagasse was quoted in the book "From Scratch: Inside the Food Network," according to The Daily Beast, as saying "[Ray] doesn't know anything about food ... I would not put her on [the network]."
But what did Ray say about Lagasse? She sang a different tune, at least publicly, calling Lagasse one of her greatest cooking inspirations when he appeared for the first time on her morning talk show. Whatever their behind-the-scenes drama -- real or not, put to rest or not -- the two frequently swim in the same circles these days. Lagasse appears on "The Rachael Ray Show" with regularity and you can find plenty of his recipes on the show's website. As well, the two attend charity events together, such as the 8th annual Celebrity Chef fundraiser in 2023, which benefited young students in the Wilmington, North Carolina, area.
Ask Julia Child fans who the real OG of celebrity chefs and television cooking is and they won't say Emeril Lagasse. While it might seem that Child's and Lagasse's timelines could have never crossed, given that Child was born in 1912, published her first cookbook in 1961, and premiered on public television in 1963, her illustrious career lasted so long that she did indeed come across Lagasse after his rise to fame in the '90s.
In 1999, Child gave a three-hour interview with the Television Academy Foundation, in which she commented on Lagasse and the Food Network in general. She remarked that the network was "having a difficult time" growing its viewership and pointed to Lagasse as an object of audience adoration. However, she also said, "But they're looking at it for fun and amusement [...] they're not going to watch a serious thing on how to bone a turkey or something like that. They want entertainment." This was a stark contrast, she added, to the type of television content she provided, which kept education at its core. Regardless, her opinion did not stop her from featuring Lagasse on her show, "Julia Child: Cooking with Master Chefs."
Much like Darnell Ferguson, Sunny Anderson got her start, in part, thanks to Emeril Lagasse. Now, Anderson is a staple on the Food Network but she made her first appearance on "Emeril Live" in 2005 after a Food Network employee heard her on the radio. At the time, she worked in broadcasting but made no secret of her love of cooking.
Anderson reunited with Lagasse on "The Rachael Ray Show" in 2015 and let everyone know exactly what she thought of him. She called that first time on Lagasse's show an out-of-body, slow-motion experience, then teared up as she said, "There are only a few moments like that in life where you can really remember them as being not only a defining moment, but a game-changer." She also showed off a t-shirt that Lagasse gave her during the taping in 2005 and said she still wears it on the regular.
A lot of people love Lagasse. Some (like Anthony Bourdain) are wary of him but then eventually come around. And then there are those among the list of people who can't stand Emeril Lagasse. The individuals who supposedly aren't his fans include some people who have purchased his branded products, such as his knives, kitchen clogs, and air fryers, but then there are a few chefs in the mix too. Sarah Grueneberg fits into the latter category.
Grueneberg is a Chicago-based, award-winning, Michelin-starred chef who has appeared on shows like "Top Chef: Texas" and "Iron Chef Gauntlet." Her connection to Lagasse came while she was on "Top Chef," where she gained a bit of notoriety for — supposedly — being less than nice to him. In an interview with Andy Cohen, he asked her about a rumor that she told Lagasse to "f— off." She denied any memory of the occurrence, saying she was "really emotional and really sad" at the time and, that if she did say it, she didn't mean it. Instead, she noted that she had grown up looking up to Lagasse and loved him, and added that he gave her the push she needed throughout the competition.
Read the original article on Mashed.