Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Emeril - If Only I Liked His Recipes Half As Much As I Liked Him

I love Emeril. I think he's like a big cuddly teddy bear. I love the way he runs onto the screen with that prizefighter countenance and infectious enthusiasm. But..I wouldn't touch his food with a ten foot pole. Wait, let me amend that. His RESTAURANT food looks fabulous, but his recipes on the Food Network just don't appeal to me. I thought by watching his Chefography, I might come up with the answer to my indifference, but I'm more confused than ever. Learning about his life and the growth of his career makes me admire him more as a person. His food, however, stills holds no allure.

He is a native of Fall River, Massachusetts, a town with a huge Portuguese presence (including his mother's side of the family). Alot of wonderful from-the-homeland cooking went on, which interested little Emeril. He worked for a dollar an hour, washing dishes when he was 10 years old. Now THAT'S impressive. By 12, he was actually beginning to cook, learning everything he could, not because he HAD to work, but because he wanted to. WHAT was in their water?! During his school years, he worked nights (I don't mean evenings, I mean friggin' NIGHTS - 11pm to 7 am!!!) and THEN went to class...again, not because he had to.

He also loved music and was offered a scholarship at the New England Conservatory of Music. But it was the lure of the stove that drove him, so he went to Johnson & Wales and graduated in 1978. He cooked locally and here and there. In his 20's, he applied to and was hired at Commander's Palace in New Orleans as Paul Prudhomme's replacement. That's when he really found his way. He hadn't known anything about New Orleans cuisine, previously. 7 years later, he learned enough to open his first restaurant, Emeril's. He put together a loyal management team that helped him build 9 restaurants from New Orleans to Las Vegas and Atlanta to Miami.

Emeril was tapped to do a show on the Food Network. Does anyone remember "How to Boil Water"? Would you believe that I once taught someone how to boil water? Topics included what the bubbles look like when they're REALLY boiling, as opposed to not quite, almost and barely boiling. Anyway, the folks from the FN soon realized that Emeril was a bit overqualified for that show. DUH! And they came up another concept or two. When he finally hit the airwaves in "Emeril Live" in 1997, his star really began to rise. It was the first hit on the Food Network and his audience loved him. (I would still like to ask the people, did they love his recipes or just HIM? I know what I would say.)

He took his show on the road to different cities, playing in huge arenas. San Francisco Bam! Las Vegas and Chicago Double Bam!! He says, in spite of the huge business he's built, "it's still all about the food." Yeah, it's still about that godawful food. WHAT is my problem? Am I un-American? I went back and leafed through some of his cookbooks and looked at his recipes online. They leave me cold. They're either boring or a dumb combination of ingredients or a waste of valuable time putting it all together. I really can't explain. I love the man to pieces. Why am I so completely unmoved by his recipes?

We go on to learn about his multimillion dollar merchandising empire. People wanted a souvenir of his restaurants, so starting with books, one thing led to another and now he's selling everything from bottles of spices to knives and pots. (The All Clad pots, by the way, are very good.) And needless to say, Emeril shines at book signings.

This chefography covers one more very appealing aspect of Emeril. He's not afraid to share the spotlight with his famous chef friends. We see Charlie Trotter, Rick Bayless and Bobby Flay, among others, invited onto his show to bask in the light of his royal bam-ness. (I must say I do love a man dressed in clean crisp chef whites. Add a long white apron tied TIGHTLY at the waist, and you've got me at hello.)

We finish up with a list, a LONG list, of all of his good works and our visit to Emeril's life is complete. Except for one thing. How his personality can be so captivating and his food be so UN-riveting is still a mystery to me.

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