There is a lot of talk going around that Emeril Lagasse, one of the first Food Network chefs and arguably the most successful, has had his contract negotiations with the FN break down like a poorly-made Hollandaise. As a result, December 11 will be the final taping of Emeril Live, leading to the overstuffed sidewalk in front of the Chelsea Market being far less stuffed with overstuffed tourists clutching tickets for the show.
We hope that this is not the case. Emeril Live is a long-running nightly show and there isn't much that it hasn't handled yet, but Eml himself is, by all reports, a good guy, an important and imaginative chef, and one of the great telegenic characters of all time. The Food Network would be a duller and less-important place without him, and I hope that even if the nightly show is gone, he'll still be around on a weekly-and-specials basis.
There are some people saying even now that it's good to see the back of Em, because he was the beginning of the end as far as dumbing-down of food and cooking is concerned. I disagree strongly with this.
Sure, Em's lack of skill at the English language (his mother tongue) is annoying. And when he told us that ganache was "just some melted chocolate wid a coupla other things inside it", pastry chefs all over America had to bite hard on their glazing brushes.
Bourdain was pretty nasty about Emeril at first, and so was Amanda Hesser of the New York Times. (Which might be the only time these two have agreed about anything). But Bourdain rethought the subject and came out all in favor of Em, including much-deserved props for the New Orleans chef's ability to run several huge kitchens and cook both imaginatively and well. (Hesser has not been heard from again on this subject, but she's such a queasy little non-fat-yogurt-please-and-hold-the-fruit that I can't care too much about her opinion).
In my opinion, Julia Child made it possible for us to cook foreign food as if it were familiar to us. Graham Kerr forced us to make dirty jokes about it, and Emeril makes us think about it, and about all food. This is pioneer stuff, and, if I'm more likely to cook from Mario Batali or Alton Brown, that's just personal taste. Mario would have been a big foodie noise someplace else--maybe France or England--but if Emeril hadn't existed, he couldn't have done what he's done here in the United States. And Alton would probably be a TV weatherman with a somewhat violent cult following, if there had been no Em.
Lat night's Iron Chef was a good example of Emeril's influence on gourmet cooking and the way food preparation is seen and enjoyed these days.
Perhaps tired from that long search for the next IC, the Chairman put on a Santa suit (you heard me), turned a few back flips and ordered Tyler ("Applebee") Florence and Robert "strong like bull, have many children" Irvine to complete with Iron Chef Cat Cora and none other than Miss Paula Deen.
The Battle? "SUGAR?!" as the Chairman intoned for us last night. It was a Holiday Desserts cook-off, and man, it was a blast.
Tyler and Cat did a good deal of cooking, while Muscly Bob and Miss Paula did a lot of making out. (She even managed to cuddle with Tyler and the Chairman; Alton, the commentator, is from Atlanta, so the Savannah-born Deen probably didn't want to get too close to him.) Booze was drunk, cooked with, spilled and ignited with an easy flair; the judges were Katie Lee Joel (wife, not daughter; I too was confused), the ever-good humored Ted Allen, and our friend JC's imaginary girlfriend Tina Fey (presently top goddess in the big fellow's pantheon, along with Maureen Dowd and Christina Aguillerra).
Things began to go downhill after Paula brought out the pasteurized process artificial cheese food for her chocolate fudge balls (which were subsequently dipped in caramel sauce, white chocolate, and chopped nuts; it was after ingesting one of these that Judge Fey mimed a hypoglycemic coma and and placed her head on her desk, whimpering for the paramedics). Alton began repeating the phrase "pasteurized process artificial cheese food" in a whispery undertone; he was plainly feeling the loss of dignity involved in admitting that such a thing even existed in the Iron Chef pantry. (It had probably been there ever since Morimoto tried to make ice cream out of it back in Season 1; fortunately, this stuff never goes bad.) Matters were not helped by the women's sous-chef dressing up as an elf and snarling "Bite me" when Tyler tried to wish her a merry Christmas.
So okay, the thing was a cartoon. Was that bad? OMG, no! It was a lot of fun if you like that kind of thing, and if you don't, no one was forcing you to watch it.
The point is, it wouldn't have existed before Emeril. He's a good guy and a pioneer and that's why, no matter how snobbish we foodies get, we should never discount him. He was on the scene at the right moment, and we'd be nowhere without him.