Chef Emeril Lagasse was once one of the biggest celebrities in the culinary world. Known for his exuberant on-air personality and signature catchphrases like “Bam!” and “Kick it up a notch!”, Emeril hosted numerous popular shows on the Food Network in the 1990s and 2000s. However, in recent years, the celebrity chef has faded from the spotlight. So what exactly happened to Chef Emeril?
Emeril’s Early Career
Before becoming a household name, Emeril Lagasse worked as a chef in restaurants in New England and New York. He was executive chef at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, where he first gained national attention and was named Best Southeast Regional Chef by the James Beard Foundation in 1991. In the early 1990s, Emeril opened his first restaurant, Emeril’s, in New Orleans and published his first cookbook. It was around this time that he caught the eye of executives at the Food Network.
Rise to Fame on Food Network
Emeril debuted on Food Network in 1993 with his show Essence of Emeril. His dynamic cooking demonstrations and over-the-top personality were a hit. Essence of Emeril ran for over 100 episodes until 1997. In 1997, Emeril premiered a new show called Emeril Live, which was filmed in front of a live studio audience. On Emeril Live, Emeril cooked dishes suggested by audience members and responded with his iconic “Bam!” and “Kick it up a notch!” catchphrases. Emeril Live ran for over 1,000 episodes until 2007.
At the height of his fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Emeril was Food Network’s biggest star. He hosted numerous specials like Emeril’s Thanksgiving Celebration and Emeril’s Creole Christmas. From 1999-2003, he hosted The Essence of Emeril on Food Network, focusing on simpler recipes for home cooks. Emeril also made frequent TV appearances on shows like Late Night with David Letterman, Martha Stewart, Iron Chef America and more.
Emeril’s Restaurant and Merchandise Empire
Capitalizing on his fame, Emeril opened more restaurants during his Food Network tenure. Locations included NOLA Restaurant in New Orleans, Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House, and Emeril’s Orlando and Emeril’s Tchoup Chop at Universal Orlando Resort. He launched his Emeril’s brand of seasonings, cookware, cookbooks and more, bringing in millions annually at its peak. The New York Times estimated in 2008 that the Emeril brand was a $50 million business.
Shift Away from Food Network
In the late 2000s, Emeril’s reign on Food Network started to fade. His show Emeril Live was cancelled in 2007 after a 10 year run. While he continued to make guest appearances, he was no longer the face of the network. There were a few factors that contributed to Emeril’s reduced role on Food Network:
- Emeril had aged out of the coveted younger demographic that Food Network was trying to capture.
- Food Network wanted to spotlight newer personalities like Guy Fieri.
- Emeril wanted to focus on his restaurants, merchandise and other business ventures.
- Critics felt that Emeril’s over-the-top style had grown stale and become a caricature.
Though no longer Food Network’s biggest star, Emeril continued with a few lower-profile shows. From 2009-2011 he hosted Emeril’s Florida airing on the Cooking Channel. From 2011 to 2012, he teamed up with Robert Irvine on Dinner: Impossible. However, these shows did not match the success and popularity of his earlier Food Network programs.
In the 2010s, Emeril pursued other TV, digital and educational projects. Highlights include:
- 2012 – Essence of Emeril Reruns: Food Network brought back reruns of Essence of Emeril
- 2013 – Emeril’s Florida: Cooking Channel show visited Florida restaurants and food
- 2014 – Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse: Traveled to explore international cuisine and culture
- 2015 – Emeril’s Florida Table: Displayed Florida Gulf cuisine
- 2015 – Emeril Lagasse Foundation: Raised money for children’s education programs
- 2016 – Amazing Food Challenge: Digital series where he judged creative home cooks
- 2017 – Emeril’s Air Fryer: 30-minute program on using air fryer appliances
Though he was no longer dominating the TV landscape, Emeril stayed busy with a mix of programming. While his energy and over-the-top style was featured less, he focused more on international cuisine, topics like air fryers, and his philanthropic endeavors. Some critics felt Emeril had successfully reinvented himself by shifting to these educational niche topics.
In the early 2010s, Emeril’s restaurant presence also began diminishing. From a peak of 12 restaurants in the early 2000s, the Emeril’s empire declined significantly. By 2022, only three locations remained:
|Year||Total Emeril’s Restaurants|
There were several factors that contributed to the shrinking of Emeril’s restaurant presence:
- Casual dining industry was in decline, hurting high-end restaurants
- Restaurant expansion happened too fast in the peak years
- High overhead costs and loss of novelty appeal
- Loss of business after closure of casinos in some locations
- Lagging reputation and aging brand compared to trendier celebrity chefs
By 2022, only his original New Orleans restaurant and two at casinos remained. While the brand was no longer growing, these remaining locations continued drawing interest as classics.
In 2019, Emeril partnered with Amazon to launch new content and products. He hosted a few instructional cooking video series exclusively on Amazon including Emeril Cooks, Emeril Tailgates, and Emeril Breakfasts. Amazon also began selling Emeril-branded appliances like pressure cookers, air fryers and barbecue tools. While Amazon provided new opportunities, some saw the partnership as evidence of Emeril’s diminished status compared to his glory days on network TV.
In the last few years, Emeril has focused on a mix of philanthropic projects, select TV appearances, and his remaining restaurants. Highlights include:
- 2019 – Today Show: Appeared weekly sharing recipes and cooking segments
- 2020 – Wedding officiant: Ordained to officiate weddings in Florida
- 2021 – Tournament of Roses: Served as an honorary chair
- 2022 – James Beard Award: Inducted into the foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage
While no longer the marquee celebrity he was in his 1990s heyday, Emeril continues to be an iconic and respected figure in the culinary world. He has successfully leveraged his name recognition and goodwill for selective projects.
Looking at the entirety of his long career, Emeril Lagasse has left an undeniable impact on American cuisine and food media. His accomplishments include:
- Introduced New Orleans and Creole cooking to millions of homes across America
- Helped elevate the status of chefs and cooking shows as mainstream entertainment
- Pioneered the lively, fast-paced style of cooking shows still influential today
- Inspired a generation of future celebrity chefs and TV personalities
- Promoted healthier Creole and Cajun cooking methods and ingredients
- Built an iconic brand and flavor profile familiar to home cooks everywhere
While his heyday has passed, Emeril’s unique enthusiasm and charm brought joy and education to millions of viewers. The legacy he left on American food culture is extensive and long-lasting.
Why He Stepped Back From the Limelight
So why exactly did Emeril retreat from Food Network and the limelight? There are a few key reasons:
- Age: Being born in 1959, he naturally aged out of TV’s youth demographic
- Over-saturation: Burnout after being so omnipresent in the 1990s and 2000s
- Business focus: Wanted to concentrate on his restaurants and brand products
- Philanthropy: Dedicated more time to his nonprofit foundation
- New passions: Developed interests in areas like travel, culture and technology
Rather than cling to past fame, Emeril seemed content to follow new passions and invest in his legacy through philanthropy. This graceful evolution has allowed him to remain relevant and respected.
The story of Emeril Lagasse traces the trajectory of how a celebrity chef rises to fame and handles the inevitable decline. Emeril thoroughly embraced the spotlight and redefined food television with his high energy and culinary chops. While he dominated the 1990s and early 2000s, his prominence faded as the food world moved on. But rather than fight the decline, he transitioned to focus on areas like education, travel, and philanthropy. Emeril Lagasse achieved so much at his peak that he earned the right to step back and selectively pursue projects he is passionate about. Though his days as Food Network’s #1 star are over, Emeril’s enduring fan base proves the lasting impact he made on American culinary culture.