CCelebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse Has opened more than 20 restaurants for more than three decades garnering accolades, cooking shows and Emmy nominations. But outside the kitchen, they also raised four children, decades apart; two girls from his first marriage as a teenager, and a son and daughter with his current wife.
Now, as their nineteen year old son EJ takes the reins At the famous Emeril’s restaurant in New Orleans, Lagasse learned to be a father at the same age and then to do it again decades later. And, yes, the world-renowned chef created his own baby food.
By the time you became a father, you were already a very successful chef, weren’t you?
Not necessary. So I have two lives. I have a life with my first wife. I was 19, growing up very Catholic. She got pregnant with my first two daughters, Jessica. At the same time, I was building a career. I probably wasn’t quite so hunky dory as a parent, because I was working 80 hours a week, six days a week, two jobs, trying to make ends meet. And at that time it was very difficult to be a parent.
Then later, as times changed, there was a long pause in my life. And then I remarried my current wife. And so we have two kids. And it’s a completely different approach, because my career was already established to a degree. My financial situation was obviously very different. So that life is very, very different from before. By the way, I am very close to all my children. We have a really great relationship even though we may be miles apart.
So all of a sudden, I’m 19 years old. I had so many great culinary plans, and I had no idea that I was going to be a father. Which is also why, well, I guess I have to get married. This was 43 years ago.
I wasn’t trained how to be a husband, or how to be a father. It was not included in the curriculum where I went to school. So it was a big learning curve for me. And then trying to juggle the responsibility of a child and now a wife and career. I had to do two jobs to make ends meet. So I had a day off to do everything: cut the grass, get gas, try to be a family man, try to be a father. It was a juggling experience. Then that grew into a second child, my other daughter Jillian. And that too was kind of accidental. So that was another wake up call: Holy smokes, I have two kids, and I’m 22 years old or whatever, and I have all this responsibility on my shoulders.
With my first two girls, the connection was basically in the kitchen, because that’s where they had to come see me where I was working. The reward at the end of the day would be having a family dinner and spending time with the family before going to bed. I tried to help with the housework, I tried to help with the activities they were doing, but it was a very difficult situation. And so, when we moved from the Northeast to New Orleans, that’s when things got really shaky. His life was great, but there wasn’t much time for fatherhood in it. we separated; My wife moved back to the Northeast where she had family. I was in New Orleans, obviously still in financial straits. it was very difficult. It was a long distance relationship with my kids, and so I only did what I could.
That’s when the traction started in the Commander’s Palace. We got a lot of applause. I learned a lot about hospitality. I wouldn’t say I was in the clear financially, but I became a little bit more free or where else in New Orleans could I bring them or where else could I visit them.
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So the second time you became a parent, go ahead, what was that like?
I could embrace it, because I was ready for it. It was no surprise. We planned for about two years about having a baby. The conditions were different. She was huge, I was definitely huge. I had minor complications doing this, so we had to find some really talented people in the medical field. And finally, we had EJ. I was setting myself up on the Food Network. I owned three restaurants at that time.
What did you learn the first time that you applied the second time around?
The second time around, I learned I had to be a better listener. I learned that life is life and people are people. And there are many things you cannot control in life or with people. The timing was very different the second time around, as there was no longer a long distance relationship. I had that daily communication.
Do you have any go-to family dishes?
The family table is everything. We probably have at least about 10 or 15 recipes in our repertoire that we make as a family.
EJ was probably 12 when we were having dinner, he told his mom and me, “I want to be a chef.” I’m like, “Are you sure about that?” So as time developed with him, we obviously spent a lot of time in the kitchen working together. You know, one thing I told her was that she had to leave the nest, and she did. He moved to New York City on his own, working at Le Bernardin. He then moved to London, where he worked with Claire Smith in the Corps. Then he went to Lisbon, then to Stockholm. Then the call came in and it was like, ‘Okay EJ, it’s your dad. It’s time to go to work.’ And so he is now the chef patron of the flagship, Emeril’s.
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My 17 month old will only eat bhurji, peanut butter and peas. When your kids were little, were they picky eaters?
They eat everything. They eat what I put on the table. But at the same time he also had to face many things. They were exposed to scallops and octopus, different fish, different meats. You know, if you have a mom or dad who’s complaining that they don’t like broccoli. well guess what? Your child will not like broccoli.
My dad used to make this thing that was like a milkshake with leftover ice cream and bananas and any cookies I had around the house. Have you made any special dishes for your kids?
From the very beginning with EJ, I made all of his baby food. We didn’t buy a lot of shabby stuff for the kids. And we have our staples from Roast Chicken to Bolognese to Smothered Chicken, Smothered Pork Chops, to Stir Fry.
Do you have any parenting hacks or little tricks you’ve learned while raising four kids?
It’s best not to shout. You can achieve a lot more by being conversational than by blowing gaskets and being a coward. I think you can gain a lot by trying to understand and have an intelligent conversation.
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write to Charlotte Alter at [email protected].