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Emeril Lagasse Fills His Days with Charity Work and Pasta Sauce

Everyone's favorite Cajun New Englander-Emeril-has always piqued national curiosity. Once upon a time you couldn't turn on the TV without hearing "BAM!" this and "Kick it Up a Notch" that. But what happened to Emeril Lagasse? The Fall River, Massachusetts native who almost went to music school-true story-and went on to dominate culinary TV for many years just isn't as much a part of our culinary fabric.

Whither Emeril?

Emeril's Food History

Emeril young

Emeril Lagasse And Tyra Banks during 3rd Annual GQ Men of The Year Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Chef Lagasse hails from Fall River, Massachusetts, a working-class town with a prominent Portuguese-American population. His mother was of Portuguese descent, and he got his first restaurant job washing pots and pans at a Portuguese bakery. (He liked the smell of fresh bread, apparently.)

Though his first love was music, and he was talented-earning a scholarship to the famed New England Conservatory of Music in Boston-he turned it down, to his mother's chagrin. He preferred cooking, and decided to pay his own way through culinary school: Johnson & Wales, in Providence. CNN reported that though Emeril's mother was crushed, "my dad the next day pulled me off to the side and said, 'Listen, Emeril, if you think that this is something you love, which obviously you do, and if you think this is a way you can get a ticket out of here, then you go for it.'"

His Big Break

Emeril LaGasse

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So he did. He graduated from school, went to France, got yelled at for being an American who "only knows about cheeseburgers," and worked in restaurants up and down the East Coast. If he had a big break, it was landing the lead chef spot at Commander's Palace, an iconic New Orleans restaurant, in 1982. He was a hit with customers immediately.

After eight years of fusing Portuguese, Creole and Cajun flavors and French technique, Emeril decided to go out on his own, opening Emeril's, his flagship restaurant, in 1990. With his charisma and bizarre hybrid New England-New Orleans accent, he made unforgettable impressions-and his food was by all accounts fantastic.

It wasn't long before The Food Network came knocking. By 1997, "Emeril Live" was on television, and the gloves were off. He was a one-name celebrity now, a la "Cher" or "Whitney." (Neat trivia: Perhaps because he was given to shouting and colorful asides during his episodes, kids loved him!) People would come to his book-signing events, wait in line for hours, and even pass out waiting for him.

In 2007, after a long run, Emeril's TV dominance came to a fairly sudden halt. The Food Network was turning its attention to competition-focused shows like Iron Chef and Throwdown! With Bobby Flay. Not expecting to get the boot from the network, when Martha Stewart came calling in 2008 offering to buy rights to his products and brand-aside from his New Orleans restaurants-Emeril went for it, to the tune of $45 million in cash and $5 million in stock.

Emeril Today

emeril now

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These days, although he cropped up alongside Gordon Ramsay on Master Chef: Legends in 2021, Emeril seems focused on his restaurants and his charity work. (A rep didn't respond to inquiries before our press deadline.)

He's also occasionally cooking (or pulling his eponymous pasta sauces to the front of the shelves) on Instagram. Though as recently as 2015 he was still a restaurant world superstar, working on his 13th opening, these days he's down to a more modest number: six, in Las Vegas, Florida, and New Orleans. He had to shutter some offerings due to the recession in the mid-'00s, and NOLA, a New Orleans eatery, is on hiatus.

As for where he's living, we only know that he put his Destin, Florida house on the market in 2020, like so many others. (Yours might not have been listed for 5+ million, though.)

We doubt that this energetic character is out of the spotlight for good. He is still reputed to enjoy working the line at his restaurants, and as he presciently told The New York Times in 1998, "I'm not one of those he-who-dies-with-the-most-restaurants-wins type of guys."

READ MORE: What is Emeril Lagasse's Net Worth?