Emeril Lagasse’s history with Louisville is as rich as the cherry cornbread pudding he created during his visit to Derby City.
The chef, TV host and creator of kickin’ it up a notch was in town Sunday for the inaugural Fork, Cork & Style festival at Churchill Downs. I had the opportunity to ask Emeril a few questions before his first cooking demonstration at the finish line of the Churchill Downs track.
In person, Emeril is more toned down than what viewers saw on Emeril Live, the show that catapulted the chef into superstardom. Instead, the Emeril I met reminded me of the man I watch on Essence of Emeril – passionate about food, but more approachable and subdued.
During my few minutes with the chef, I learned a lot about his relationship with Louisville, his charitable works and his desire to promote more farm-to-fork eating:
Emeril’s connection with Louisville goes way back. Emeril said he was on the board of Sullivan University “back in the day” (a gentleman never reveals his age, I guess). At the time, Lilly’s Bistro was the go-to spot for culinary innovation. Since then …
“Louisville has just evolved tremendously as an American city,” Emeril said. The chef, who has 12 restaurants of his own, said he is impressed with the gastronomic presence that has emerged in Louisville. The night before Fork, Cork & Style, Emeril had a meal at Proof on Main. “I felt like I was in SoHo,” he said of the restaurant.”It’s incredible what’s going on in town. There’s a lot of exciting things happening in Louisville.”
He’s never been to a Kentucky Derby. Emeril hasn’t witnessed the most exciting two minutes in sports because the race takes place during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. He’s lived in New Orleans for 28 years, so I understand his allegiance.
Emeril’s favorite Kentucky dishes? Spoonbread and trout. Emeril is also a fan of bourbon, which he said he poured on his French toast that morning (just joking, right?).
Anyone can be a good cook. For chefs-in-the-making, Emeril said it is important to find a mentor, listen to their advice and taste everything you cook. Follow these tips, and “you might be able to whip up a sandwich,” he said.
Between building a cooking empire, Emeril gives back to the community. The Emeril Lagasse Foundation “supports non-profit organizations that provide educational programs, life skills development, culinary training and cultural enrichment, creating opportunities in the communities where Emeril’s restaurants operate,” according to the foundation’s website. Emeril said the foundation is in the process of buying a farm to teach kids about where their food comes from and the importance of local agriculture. “They have to know that orange juice doesn’t come from a carton, it comes from a tree,” he said.
The chef promoted farm-to-fork eating before it was trendy. Emeril said he has always been passionate about using seasonal, local ingredients at his restaurants. “If you have great ingredients, you have great food,” he said. His latest book, Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh, is a testament to his work.