Emeril Lagasse & Mario Batali
Merrill Shindler / July 2008
Food Arts presents the July/August 2008 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali --a seemingly ubiquitous pair of larger-than-life chefs who represent the State of Loosen-Your-Belt-a-Notch Food in the 21st century. Which is to say, joyous, rollicking, robust, piled-high, filled-with-flavor, and abundant, with more than a hint of Rabelais and Falstaff--a pair of literary icons (one real, and one imaginary) who Emeril and Mario have come to resemble, in both body and soul.
Indeed, like Rabelais and Falstaff, Lagasse and Batali have given the boot to the commonplace necessity of two names. Though they both swear that they're not on the verge of becoming Madonna-in-the-Kitchen, there's no denying they have evolved into "Mario" and "Emeril"—very probably the first chefs to do that since Julia Child became just…"Julia."
Swarthy, ebullient Emeril is from Fall River, Massachusetts, where he worked at a Portuguese bakery before heading for Johnson & Wales—a career arc he chose over becoming a drummer (which may well be the origin of his trademark "Bam"!). Red-haired, ruddy, scooter-riding Mario grew up in Seattle, learned his craft in Italy, worships pasta, and lives in shorts and orange Crocs. They both represent the very essence of their chosen cuisines. Mario grew up eating Italian food—his name is Batali after all. But it wasn't until he migrated to Italy that he came to understand its soul, which he translated in New York City at Pó, then Babbo, and a slew of other restaurants. The cooking of New Orleans was something Emeril didn't know much about until he landed at Commander's Palace in 1982 and then opened his own restaurant, Emeril's, in 1990.
And both of them are products of television, of the Food Network in particular, which they both agree made them who they are today. "Television gave me an audience I'd never have had", says Mario, whose new show on culinary travel in Spain debuts on PBS this fall.
"I love television. I love being able to communicate to so many people at once," says Emeril, who is slated to star in yet one more series, titled Emeril Green, to air on Planet Green, which will be filmed at Whole Foods Markets across America and whose longtime show on the Food Network is moving to the Fine Living Network.
And even as their names have shrunk, their empires have grown. Mario is involved in 14 restaurants, in New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Emeril has 10 restaurants, in New Orleans, Gulfport, Las Vegas, and throughout Florida. Their cookbooks abound. Products with their names on them are not just many, but a multitude (with Emeril's enterprises, with the exception of his restaurants, recently becoming a subsidiary of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia to the tune of $50 million).
There are also few chefs who more readily agree to give their time to charity. But mostly, they're a pair of chefs who are in the process of profoundly influencing the way we eat, thanks to Mario's take on the Boot, and Emeril's hit on the Big Easy.