Thoughts on Taste: Emeril Lagasse
All eyes will be fixed on the city of New Orleans next Tuesday when it celebrates Mardi Gras as only New Orleans can. For an insider’s guide to the city, we sat down with Emeril Lagasse—the transplanted New Englander made New Orleans his home in the early 1980s and has since opened three restaurants in the Big Easy.
Want to know Lagasse’s advice for an unforgettable vacation in New Orleans? What about his favorite spots for a meal in the city (and in New York)? Surely you’re curious about his tips for an authentic Mardi Gras experience, right? The successful chef and restaurateur dishes on all those topics and more.
What would your advice be to those who are looking for an authentic Mardi Gras experience?
It’s a common misperception for people to think Mardi Gras is just about partying on Bourbon Street. There are authentic experiences happening all over the city’s neighborhoods, from parades that run uptown, downtown, mid-city, and even smaller ones throughout the Marigny, Tremé, and other parts of town. Locals have their Mardi Gras traditions and tend to do the same thing year after year. Whether it’s a Friday lunch tradition or favorite spot on the parade route, we usually create our own family traditions that we repeat.
What do you love most about Mardi Gras?
What’s not to love about Mardi Gras? There’s the food, of course—the fresh seafood, king cakes, crawfish are usually coming into season. But for me, it’s the entire culture, the feeling in the city throughout the Mardi Gras season. My kids love it too, so watching parades on St. Charles Avenue becomes a family experience that we really look forward to.
What are your top tips for doing New Orleans right?
When I’m traveling, I always like to research the best local restaurants—and best doesn’t have to mean the fanciest, either. So plan your meals; you don’t want to get stuck starving in the French Quarter and not know where to go.
It’s also great to take a walk or bike to the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods for great food, drinks, local art, and music.
What’s the best spot in New Orleans for live music?
New Orleans has a lot to offer to music lovers; the city has a rich history and culture of not only jazz but zydeco and brass bands, too. Frenchmen Street is the place to find the most venues all together. From Snug Harbor to Blue Nile, there is always live music happening. Irvin Mayfield’s Playhouse is great, and Jeremy Davenport’s show at the Ritz is another favorite.
New Orleans has a fascinating cocktail culture and history and is probably best known for the Sazerac. What are your thoughts on the cocktail?
I learned a good tip about making Sazeracs from my bartender at Delmonico. She sprays the glass with Herbsaint from a spray bottle to give just a hint of the licorice flavor. The bar area at Delmonico is also pretty special. The building dates back to the 1800s, giving an old New Orleans feel.
Excluding your own restaurants and the ones that you’ve worked at during your career, what’s your favorite restaurant in the city? What do you typically order there?
It’s really hard to pick a favorite, because the dining scene is changing so much and there are so many great places, both new and old. If I’m in the mood for oysters, I love Drago’s; they have the best char-grilled oysters. For po’ boys, I love R & O’s. Another all-time favorite is the char-grilled-pork spring rolls from Pho Tau Bay [in Gretna]. New Orleans has great Vietnamese food.
If you had to construct your perfect three-course meal, what would it be?
It would start with my mother’s caldo verde soup, and she’d have to make it for it to be the best. It’s a Portuguese-style soup with kale, chorizo, potatoes, and a lot of fresh herbs. It’s probably the dish that most reminds me of my childhood.
My favorite dish of late is a fillet of freshly caught Gulf fish, right off the boat, lightly dredged in flour, quickly pan sautéed, and served with a simple lemon-butter pan sauce and sautéed vegetables. Fishing for me is a great way to unwind, and what’s better than fresh caught fish for a meal?
After that, I’d probably finish with a small slice of banana cream pie from my first restaurant in New Orleans, Emeril’s.
When you’re in New York City, what are your favorite places for a meal?
There are so many. I love all of Mario Batali’s places, especially Babbo and Del Posto. I love Ethos, which is a great neighborhood spot. I had a great Mediterranean meal from chef Daniel Boulud at Boulud Sud not too long ago, too. I’m also a big fan of Spanish cuisine, and the guys at Socarrat are doing it right. I felt like I was in Ibiza when I had their fideuàlast time.