The Amazing Emeril
October 1, 2010
By Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff
A few years ago, Emeril Lagasse and six members of his team were in Hawaii doing what professional chefs do. They were visiting the 50th state to cook and show people the way around a kitchen. It’s what chefs like Lagasse do. Culinary demonstrations they call them.
Following a busy week and a job well done, and with a day to kill before the flight back to the mainland, the seven could have sat around thinking of ways to improve upon creme brulee or discussed the relative merits of sea salt vs. the iodized variety. Instead, Lagasse, a hail-fellow-well-met if there ever were one, wanted to show his gratitude to his team.
So Emeril, one of those rarities—a person who everyone knows by mere mention of just one name (think Oprah, Madonna and Tiger)—asked his fellow chefs what he could treat them to.
“Besides eating, of course,” Lagasse joked.
The unanimous answer was “Let’s go play a round of golf.”
Wire whips, double boilers and rubberized spatulas Lagasse knew. But 3-irons and 56-degree wedges?
The fact that nobody in the group had shoes, balls or clubs didn’t matter. Team Lagasse wanted to play golf, so golf it would be. The boss picked up the phone and handled everything.
“I called the clubhouse the night before, and they arranged to do everything for us,” Lagasse remembers. “Then we went out there the next day and tore the course up, man. We didn’t know what we were doing. There were more divots, and I didn’t even know what we were supposed to do with them then. I feel so bad now that I think of what we unfortunately did to that course. We lost probably about 100 balls between us. It was hysterical.”
Lagasse then makes a pun.
“That was my first taste of golf,” he says.
Whether the word play was intentional really isn’t clear.
* * *
On a beautiful fall afternoon, Emeril Lagasse is at Annandale Golf Club, playing in the Viking Classic pro-am. His PGA TOUR playing partner is Boo Weekley. Think these two guys are having fun?
Lagasse is a proficient golfer these days, that day in Hawaii but a distant memory. He says his handicap has been as low as a 12 but admits he’s a pinch or a dash away from that number today.
“Respectable,” he says of his game the day after his pro-am appearance. “I’m a lot worse right now. I haven’t played. I’m working too much. Golf is one of those things you have to get out and play.”
Lagasse’s Viking Classic pro-am team, with Weekley captaining the squad, finished at 16-under. “He’s a really cool guy. It’s not every day you get a chance to play with celebrities who cook,” says Weekley. “It was fun to be out there playing with him. He was entertaining us and talking and just goofing off. But it’s a good thing he does that chef business because the golf ain’t gonna pan out for him.”
We’re pretty sure Weekley’s pun was unintentional. Positive, actually.
Lagasse, fortunately, does have a fallback, even if he does find himself playing in a pro-am quite frequently these days. There is his involvement in 12 restaurants in five cities, his TV program on the Cooking Channel (“Fresh Food Fast”), a twice-a-week radio program and the prolific writing of 15 cookbooks, his latest Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh, released earlier this summer. But spending a few hours on a PGA TOUR course for a pro-am wasn’t always on Lagasse’s agenda.
That changed when the PGA TOUR and Lagasse first got together when the Zurich Classic of New Orleans was played at English Turn Golf and Country Club. Lagasse lived adjacent to the third hole at English Turn, and because of his celebrity in the Big Easy, the TOUR asked Lagasse if he would do one of his culinary demonstrations for the wives of TOUR players competing that week.
That was simple. Lagasse wowed his audience, and the TOUR paid the chef for his services. Lagasse immediately turned around and donated his fee to St. Michael’s Special School, one of the tournament’s benefiting charities. In each subsequent year, Lagasse continued with the demonstrations and eventually brought his clubs with him.
“Over the years, I’ve played with Lee Westwood, David Duval, Chris DiMarco, Tim Petrovic and David Toms, and we’ve become friends,” Lagasse says. As he’s saying this, as if to make the point for him, TOUR player Jerry Kelly, in town for the Viking Classic, stops by to say hello.
“See what I mean. Jerry Kelly, right there.
“[Wednesday] was enjoyable for me,” Lagasse adds. “[Weekley’s] really a character. He’s a fun, fun guy to be with. Like I said, we had a very fun group, so it made for a great afternoon because I had no other responsibilities other than to go out and play golf and have a good time.”
Lagasse’s real responsibilities came Thursday morning. Looking out the windows of the huge tent erected near the clubhouse, it was easy to see TOUR players competing in the Viking Classic’s first round at Annandale Golf Club. Inside, though, Lagasse was in front of a standing-room-only crowd in his element doing—what else?—a culinary demonstration.
Three-hundred people were there to watch Lagasse and his team prepare a lobster salad with fresh corn and tomatoes, served with a balsamic dressing on a bed of bibb lettuce. He also prepared a blackberry cobbler and made artichokes look good even to a grade-schooler. Proceeds from the $100-per-ticket event went to Friends of Children’s Hospital and the Eli Manning Children’s Clinics at the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson.
“I've been involved with the Children’s Hospital on and off with Fred and Margaret over the years, we’ve done quite a few things,” Lagasse says of Viking’s owners, Fred and Margaret Carl. “And then, of course, I got involved with Eli some years ago when he stepped up and decided to make a huge contribution and help out.” Manning is the former University of Mississippi All-American by way of New Orleans who is now the New York Giants’ quarterback. Obviously, Lagasse isn’t just buddies with PGA TOUR players.
Since its inception in 2002, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation has made children the focus of its charitable endeavors, donating more than $4 million in that time.
“My foundation is all about children,” he continues. “I think that they’re the future, and so if we don’t contribute—no matter what way, whether it's knowledge or money, to our young and our youth—then where are we going to be in our future?”
Lagasse has settled in quite nicely with golf as the perfect vehicle for his foundation and its fund-raising efforts, regardless of the venue.
Last week, he was in Newport, R.I., for the eighth annual Emeril Lagasse Golf Classic, a one-day event that funds scholarships for students at his alma mater, Johnson & Wales University. The 2010 tournament at Newport Country Club made $485,000. Earlier this season—as he is every year—Lagasse was at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, helping raise money for the Fore!Kids Foundation, to fund children’s-service organizations in Louisiana.
What Lagasse does is not lost on tournament directors who run tournaments so their events can make the largest-possible donations to charity.
“Emeril is an outstanding representative of not only our city but also a great friend of Fore!Kids Fondation,” says Zurich Classic of New Orleans Tournament Director Tommy Fonseca. “We join forces with Emeril each year, and not only does he bring his celebrity name and talents, but he joins us in our mission and what we’re trying to do here.”
And this week, he’s at the Viking Classic, the first time Lagasse has attended the TOUR’s Fall Series event.
“The Viking Classic owes a huge debt of gratitude to Emeril. His generous donation of both time and talent has greatly enhanced the success of this year’s tournament, and we appreciate all of the added enthusiasm his presence has afforded us,” says Viking Classic Tournament Director Randy Watkins. “Emeril’s sold-out culinary demonstrations will undoubtedly help make our donation to Friends of Children’s Hospital, one of the largest to date.”
Lagasse understands the role he can play, that his celebrity and particular set of talents allows tournaments to lean on him to generate more money for charity. When this is pointed out, he gives an isn’t-that-the-whole-idea? look and smiles.
“Throughout the various types of tournaments I attend, when it’s all said and done, it’s about golf, it’s about bringing these people together in a very civilized manner all for a good cause,” he says.
“And,” he’s quick to note, “these guys who invite me to their tournaments have such a passion for food.”
It’s an interesting juxtaposition since people could say that same thing about Lagasse and golf.
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