Let’s take it up a notch! Bam! If you watched the Food Network in the 2000s, you’re probably familiar with Emeril Lagasse’s loud and famous catchphrase. Cooking for an enraptured audience, he was an inescapable presence in the wider world of cuisine. But then Emeril disappeared from the spotlight for more than a decade. Where did one of America’s favorite celebrity chefs go? Finally, Emeril is opening up on why he disappeared from TV — and the true story is darker than we’d ever imagined.
When Emeril Live was cancelled in 2007, it was the beginning of the end of Emeril’s TV career. The show was picked up by The Cooking Channel in 2008, but only lasted until 2010. Emeril’s other show, Essence of Emeril, also came to an end in 2008 after 18 seasons.
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“When it ended, everybody felt like it was time for a little break,” he said in a GQ interview. “I didn’t necessarily think that, but that’s what everybody else thought, that maybe it was time for a break from Emeril.” Still, the Food Network had a plan for him.
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Executives at Food Network approached Emeril about transitioning into a reality show format, but the celebrity chef wasn’t interested. The mid-2000s were the rise of the reality show, and Food Network wanted to get some of their shows into the fray.
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“I’m old-fashioned, and I want to teach people how to cook, how to eat, how to serve, how to shop, how to drink wine, how to mix a cocktail properly,” Emeril said. “I didn’t necessarily at the time want to get into this competition stuff.”
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The major changes with his TV shows inspired Emeril to make a change himself — he decided to sell his brand (excluding his restaurants) to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in 2008. The profit was huge.
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The sale of his old TV episodes, cookbooks, and kitchen products made Emeril even wealthier than ever. Martha gave him $45 million and $5 million in stock. Emeril was swimming in the dough — which makes sense because he’s a chef. He’d be back.
Emeril didn’t stay off the air for too long. In 2013, Emeril’s Florida premiered. The show was supposed to help draw more tourists to the Sunshine State. It was cancelled after four years, so we’re guessing this didn’t work.
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The show didn’t draw in a large viewership, but Emeril did get some recognition — from the U.S. House of Representatives. Emeril’s Florida was a private business that received public funds from Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism board.
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Over five years, the cooking show received $10 million from the company. In the end, Emeril walked away with another $4 million. We’re sure Floridians were happy to see their tax dollars go to this worthy cause. But the taste tycoon wasn’t exactly enjoying himself.
Besides the show cancellations and lawsuits, Emeril was also suffering in his personal life. His mentor, Ines De Costa, died in 2011. When Emeril was little, he would watch her cook in her restaurants, while she would share her food wisdom with the young chef.
The two were so close that Ines was almost like his second mom. “She really had an incredible heart and soul,” Emeril said. “She loved her family. She was an exceptional person.” He was devastated by this loss.
And in 2016, Emeril’s biological mother, Hilda Lagasse, also died. He had a close relationship with her, and she was another one of his cooking mentors who helped him develop into a wildly successful professional chef.
Besides losing his literal and figurative moms, Emeril’s restaurant empire began to suffer during the Great Recession in the late 2000s. “It’s becoming a very challenging industry to become a very successful average restaurateur,” he admitted.
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Emeril was frustrated with the government and blamed his problems on them, explaining that he felt like their regulations were ruining his businesses. “I have nowhere to go, really — other than broke,” he said. We’re sure the enormous payday from Martha Stewart helped.
Emeril “financially recovered” enough to open another restaurant in 2016. This wouldn’t be the end of his restaurant troubles. The next year he ended the lease on one of his long-term restaurants, Table 10, citing concerns with the building’s recent renovations.
Emeril closed Tchoup Chop, his restaurant at Universal Orlando’s Royal Pacific Resort, around the same time. And in May 2018, he also closed Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando. Even with these closings, he still owns 10 other restaurants.
One of Emeril’s most successful and longest-running restaurants is NOLA in New Orleans. It opened in 1992, just two years before the start of his Food Network career. When he decided to close a few of his restaurants, he went the opposite route with this one.
In 2017, NOLA underwent an extensive five-week renovation — so extensive the restaurant had to close during this enormous undertaking. The restaurant received a makeover to its appearance and its menus as well.
NOLA’s first level was converted into a bar area for patrons. Emeril also hired chef Philip Buccieri to lead in the kitchen. Philip converted the menu to serve wood-fired pizzas and other small plates instead.
Emeril has put his TV career behind him and continues to thrive in his restaurant empire. “I love people, I love being with my staff, I love learning together, I love making people happy with food, with wine, with service,” he said. While Emeril has enjoyed an extremely successful transition into full time restauranteur, not every food personality is so lucky.
Guy Fieri’s Time Square Restaurant, paling in comparison to Emeril’s establishments, had one of the most disastrous openings ever. Anthony Bourdain called it a “terror dome.” The New York Times asked, “When you hung that sign by the entrance that says, WELCOME TO FLAVOR TOWN!, were you just messing with our heads?”
Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar
While many critics like to hate on the Mayor of Flavortown, Fieri is perhaps the most misunderstood food personality out there. Born Guy Ramsay Ferry, the culinary TV personality changed his last name in 1995 for a rather touching reason.
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Like many other immigrants who came to America in the early 20th century, Guy’s grandfather Giuseppe changed his last name from the traditionally Italian “Fieri” to the anglicized spelling “Ferry.” This didn’t sit well with Guy, who honored his family heritage by changing it back.
Family has always been a top priority for Guy, who credits his dad for sparking his love of food at an early age. Trying new food was a fun challenge between the two of them, which led to his boyhood love of sushi.
In fact, Guy was fascinated by the idea of being a chef before he even hit double digits. The precocious kid knew that if he wanted to achieve his dream, he had to go to the culinary school big leagues in Europe.
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He worked tirelessly to fund his trip abroad, though as you might suspect, his job had that extra bit of Flavortown flair. A teenage Guy spent his weekends slinging soft pretzels from a cart. Eventually, at 16, he flew to Chantilly, France, to study.
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Guy left the immersive study abroad program with a profound appreciation for his favorite type of cuisine, and yes, French food remains his number one. After coming back to the states, he earned his BS in Hotel Management from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
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While Guy worked his way up through the restaurant industry, he did make a few pit stops in other areas. He used that trademark personality to star in commercials for the auto parts company Flowmaster.
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By the mid-’90s, Guy opened his first restaurant Johnny Garlic’s. He had several irons in the fire, all the while, charming people with his approachable fired up personality. That charisma ultimately helped land him a spot on season two of the reality show Food Network Star.
To no one’s surprise, Guy won the reality competition. The Food Network could sense they’d found someone that audiences would fall in love with. For Guy, his new success was an opportunity to pitch the projects most important to him, namely a children’s cooking show.
Since cooking as a kid left such a deep impact on Guy’s life, he thought a children’s cooking show would be a ratings hit. So he pitched it to the Food Network shortly after he won the reality show in 2006 — but execs passed!
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Guy had the last laugh when kids cooking shows became a huge success just a few years later. He shared his love for cooking with his own sons. Hunter, his oldest, is a baker who often joins his dad on camera.
Winning the title led Guy down a path to new adventures, including his hit show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, or as he calls it, Triple D. Fans of the show know that Guy visits restaurants around the country to chow down their tastiest fare.
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When Guy pulls up in that red Camaro, the restaurant staff is ready. Every spot nixes one item from their menu while the fireball of a chef is around — eggs. Guy famously hates them! Though, he did chug raw yolks once on the Tonight Show.
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Despite his reputation for drowning foods in donkey sauce, Guy keeps his own dinner table packed with produce. As he said in an interview, “I’m a huge vegetable junkie. That’s one of the things people don’t even know about me. I’ll make six different types of vegetables for dinner.”
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Still, he is the man who coined the term “pig candy” for bacon. Guy believes meat improves every meal, particularly if it’s slathered in sauce. He’s a skilled pitmaster who was inducted into the BBQ Hall of Fame in 2012.
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What does Guy consider his favorite kitchen tool? It might surprise you to learn the Fieris love a wok. It’s an essential item they bring on family camping trips; Guy favors the versatility of the round-bottomed pot.
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Part of Guy’s job is to hobnob with other famous cooking personalities, and that’s how he met his BFF, chef Robert Irvine. These two are such good buddies that Guy served as Robert’s best man at his wedding.
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Guy is one of only three celebrity chefs to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The honor was bestowed to the spirited cooking star by none other than Matthew McConaughey because, of course, those two are great pals!
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There’s no doubt that Guy Fieri eclipsed his status as a Food Network Star to become a plain old superstar. He’s one of a few celebrity chefs to reach that peak by being a one-of a-kind character.
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To land your own cooking show, you need a very secret ingredient — an engaging personality! Chefs like Ina Garten, the leisurely hostess of the Barefoot Contessa, exude a natural genuineness that makes you want to sit at her kitchen table and hear her story.
People / Instagram / Ina Garten
It’s hard to imagine the life of a pro chef, but Ina Garten welcomes fans and newcomers into her home every day to give them a glimpse of it. But earning her place at the top of the Food Network chain wasn’t easy.
You probably assume someone who hosts her own cooking show was passionate about the culinary world from the start, but not Ina. Her very first job was working on nuclear energy policy for the government. To her, it was as dull as it sounded.
Although it was a secure government job, it wasn’t fulfilling, and she knew it needed to come to an end. What kind of career change did she want? She didn’t know, but she had to figure it out quick.
While looking through a newspaper one day, an ad caught her eye: a woman was selling off a specialty food store, called Barefoot Contessa, in the Hamptons. After consulting with her husband Jeffrey, she made a massive decision.
She contacted the seller and pitched an offer much lower than what was being asked. Incredibly, the woman accepted. Ina, although excited, was also plenty nervous. She didn’t know anything about food, but it was now time to learn.
A lack of food knowledge didn’t stop Ina from taking an immense amount of pride in her store. She immersed herself in Julia Childs’s cookbooks, and over time, developed the culinary techniques necessary to rise to the level of chef.
Eventually, she moved her business to a larger storefront and hired professional chefs and cooks. With new digs, the store specialized in foods like imported cheeses and lobster; eventually, it became a hotspot for celebs like Lauren Bacall and Steven Spielberg.
As she had with her government job, Ina eventually grew tired of operating her store, too. After selling it to some employees, she turned her attentions to her thriving website and a new line of cookbooks. Again, this attracted attention from the right people.
Her book’s successes earned her frequent appearances on Martha Stewart’s TV show. Impressed with her books and on-air appearances, the Food Network approached Ina, hoping she would helm a show of her own. She declined.
The network was relentless in pursuit of her, though, and by 2002, she caved, finally launching Barefoot Contessa, the TV cooking show. Over all, she had one goal in mind.
She wanted to steer people away from the notion cooking is hard. With some practice, even if that just means starting with perfecting a bowl of oatmeal, anyone can pick up some great techniques. Still, she struggled with some recipes.
Despite her television-worthy talent, she never mastered a Boston Creme Pie! To this day, she is still working out the balance, texture, and flavor. One food, however, she claims to have mastered.
Her roast chicken recipe, while seemingly simple, blew people away. A group of women once told her they called it “engagement” chicken because it was so delicious, it caused men to propose! She was sure it never included one specific ingredient.
She won’t go near cilantro at all. In an interview with Vanity Fair, when asked what things in life she can’t stand, she firmly replied, “Passive-aggressive people and cilantro.” Still, despite her success in front of cameras, however, Ina struggled in more intimate settings.
While she can whip up an amazing feast fit for a dinner table’s worth of hungry guests, entertaining people gives her anxiety. But given the status of the mouths she’s fed over the years, it’s really no surprise.
Try keeping your nerves under control serving a meal to Julia Child, Michelle Obama, and Taylor Swift. That’s a hefty amount of star power at one table. Still, ever the cheery personality, Ina managed to befriend all three!
Ina may not necessarily be joining Swift on her next world tour, but the two became quite friendly when they made pavlova, a Russian dessert, for a photo shoot. Ina never let it go to her head, though.
See, she’s not concerned with the money or flashing cameras. All she cares about is that she brings people joy every day through her food. This gives her a certain relationship with fans most other celebs couldn’t stand.
She encourages fans to approach her and introduce themselves. They frequently tell her what a vital role she played in their love of food. It’s not surprising she welcomes the fan attention because she admitted she hates being alone. Like, a lot.
Her vision of misery is “an evening home alone with nothing to do.” Afraid to die alone, she wants to pass alongside her husband Jeffrey. While morbid, the love Ina has for Jeffrey even helped her redefine a whole movement.
Tending to a husband’s needs is often seen as anti-feminist — she cooks dinner for him every night, after all. But Ina doesn’t only take care of her hubby; she has her own successful career, and that’s something many women respect.
Ina’s life, while elegant and delicious, seems like it never stops moving. However, she admitted if she never jumped into the fast-paced world of food, she’d likely become a couch potato. Luckily, she pushed herself to always learn more, just like one of her idols.
Before she became a household name, Julia Child was called Julia McWilliams. Back then, her grand ambitions simmered like a beautiful bouillabaisse, yet they had absolutely nothing to do with food. Suggesting a career as a chef to a tenacious young Julia would have resulted in a dismissive snort.
From high school, Julia, a bright pupil, went straight to Smith College, the largest of the prestigious Seven Sisters women’s colleges. There, she studied history and was an active member of the Student Council and a competitor on the basketball court. But things were about to change for her — and for the nation.
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Right when the tumult of World War II was growing, Julia heard the call to fight for her country. She decided to join the military, and her branches of choice were the Women’s Army Corps or the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services. However, her dream to serve came to a halt fairly fast.
Julia exceeded the height requirements, as she stood at 6′ 2″. In fact, Julia’s particular reason for rejection from the armed services inspired a song. Acapella group The Bobs penned their song “Julia’s Too Tall” about culinary master’s life. As the lyrics tell it, “She’s too tall to be a spy, but not too tall to bake a pie…”
Julia didn’t dwell on the military denial for long. She took her talents elsewhere by volunteering for the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS for short. Sitting down with the future famed chef, they recognized her potential, documenting in her interview notes, “Good impression, pleasant, alert, capable, very tall.”
The OSS was a brand new organization, the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Julia was in the thick of it all during the formative years of the lofty organization and saw a wide variety of sensitive projects throughout her tenure.
Among the 4,500 women who served in the OSS, Julia held a particularly important role. Working at the headquarters in Washington DC, her job reported directly to General William J. Donovan, the man appointed by FDR to head the OSS.
United States Army Special Operations Command
Every day Julia would sit at her OSS Headquarters desk, clacking away at a typewriter. Her job, a research assistant for the division of Secret Intelligence, involved keeping track of the thousands of names of each member of the armed services.
At first, she was riding an undeniably boring desk job. However, after months of monotony, higher-ups took notice of Julia’s sharp mind. Thrilled to escaped her typist work, she climbed the ranks of various departments, working with top officials.
Transferred from her first role, Julia moved on to the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, or ERE, where she was set with a particularly specific request. During WWII, besides having to cope with the harrowing realities of war, soldiers on the seas were facing a more ferocious predator who didn’t discriminate in its attacks.
While navigating salty waters on military missions, Naval Officers were vulnerable to sharks. As more soldiers flocked to the shark-infested waters, the problem became too gruesome to ignore. In fact, there were over 20 documented cases of military men attacked by the ocean’s gnarliest meat-eaters in less than 18 months.
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Sharks threatened the safety of individual sailors but also had the potential to sink larger military missions. The curious creatures would occasionally swim head-on into explosives intended for German U-boats, resulting in a huge waste of time, money, and sea life.
Joint Chiefs of Staff, frustrated by this unforeseen complication, wanted to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible. There were, figuratively, bigger fish to fry. So, they tasked the Office of Strategic Services with developing a strategy to solve the shark situation.
So, just a month after the agency’s inception, the OSS started a project worthy of Adam West’s Batman — shark repellent. The ERE, lead by Dr. Henry Field of the Field Museum of Natural History, and from the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Captain Harold J. Coolidge, began trial-and-error testing various lethal poisons.
Julia worked directly with Coolidge as his Executive Assistant while they tested their anti-shark recipes. Unfortunately, her hands were not yet trained in the culinary arts, so Julia couldn’t offer ingredient suggestions. Though, admittedly, Julia’s additions would probably involve clarified butter and squeeze of lemon.
In a book penned by fellow OSS Officer Betty McIntosh, Julia reflected on the project, “I must say we had lots of fun. We designed rescue kits and other agent paraphernalia. I understand the shark repellent we developed is being used today for downed space equipment — strapped around it so the sharks won’t attack when it lands in the ocean.”
Eventually, they settled on a mixture of copper acetate and black dye. Formed into a noxious little cake, it was released into waters and emitted a powerful odor of dead shark.
When the shark project finished, Julia was promoted yet again, this time to Chief of the OSS Registry. She packed her suitcase and set off for Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. Eventually, she was restationed in Kunming, China, where she’d been given the top level of security clearance and oversaw every bit of intelligence in her department.
Asked about her duties, Julia downplayed her position, saying she was merely a clerk. Her husband, Paul Child, set the record straight. Julia was responsible for highly classified documents, including the orders of the invasion of the Malay Peninsula.
Of course, the details were hush-hush, but Paul had a good idea of Julia’s duties because he too was an OSS Officer. The couple met during Julia’s two-year stint as Chief of Registry. In her off hours from overseeing top-secret communications, Julia was falling in love with both her future husband and his passion for fine French cuisine.
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Yep, it was through her husband that Julia discovered her fascination with cookery and food. By her own admission, she was a disaster in the kitchen up until that point. Growing up, her family had a cook prepare their meals, so she didn’t fall for food by watching her parents mill about the kitchen.
The lovebirds were married in 1946. Two years later, Paul was reassigned to the U.S. Information Agency in France, so they relocated to the hub of fine dining. It was then, that Julia buttoned her chef’s coat and began the journey to becoming one of the culinary world’s most cherished icons.