Food for thought, scholarships
It was like watching one of his more than 2,000 TV cooking shows on the Food Network, but this time Emeril Lagasse was up close and personable. The owner of three restaurants at the Sands Casino Resort in South Bethlehem, Lagasse was the star attraction at the start of the 2017 Food and Wine Festival, an annual fundraiser held at the Sands Event Center for Northampton Community College’s culinary arts program.
The much-honored and immensely popular New Orleans chef kicked things off for the three-day event on Friday with a cooking demonstration for an audience of food enthusiasts who had bought separate tickets to watch him work his culinary magic. On the menu were seared sesame-crusted tuna lettuce wraps, garnished with carrot-jalapeno pickle and fried wontons; grouper chowder with homemade fish stock, and spaghetti carbonara with fresh duck eggs.
Known for “kicking things up a notch” with cayenne pepper and other spices, the best-selling author of 19 cookbooks got a laugh from the spectators when he admitted to going “a little heavy on the chili” for the carrot-jalapeno pickle.
Audience members were given a printed program with copies of the recipes that Lagasse said were “inspiring us” in several of his restaurants. The grouper chowder is from Emeril’s recently opened Fish House at Sands Bethlehem, just one of 13 other restaurants he operates in New Orleans, Las Vegas, Orlando and Charlotte.
Culinary Director Chris Wilson, who collaborates in building the menus for seven of the restaurants, including Emeril’s Chop House, Burgers and More by Emeril and Emeril’s Fish House at the Sands, was on hand to assist in the cooking demonstration. Lagasse referred often to their teamwork, calling the spaghetti carbonara “one of Chris and my favorites.”
Besides the numerous accolades his restaurants have received, including “Best New Restaurant” by Esquire magazine, and “Best Restaurant in Las Vegas” by Zagat, Lagasse himself has garnered a number of awards. He was chosen “Chef of the Year” in 1998 by GQ magazine, “Executive of the Year” in 2004 by Restaurants & Institutions magazine, and “Restaurateur of the Year” for 2007 by New Orleans City Business.
In 2013, the James Beard Foundation named Lagasse “Humanitarian of the Year” for his efforts to further the culinary arts in America, along with his philanthropic work in supporting children’s educational programs on the culinary arts, food and nutrition through the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. Established in 2002, the foundation has provided more than $7 million in grants to children’s charities in New Orleans, Las Vegas and on the Gulf Coast.
In Bethlehem, Lagasse’s food demonstrations and the Food and Wine Festival help support scholarships through the Northampton Community College Foundation. The finale of the cooking demonstration was the announcement of the six NCC culinary arts and hospitality management students who won this year’s coveted externships to train with the chefs at three of Lagasse’s New Orleans kitchens.
The four culinary arts students competed last month in a chopped-style cookoff, where they had to create a four-course meal, including a baked dessert, out of a mystery box of ingredients. The ingredients included duck, shrimp, lychee nuts, asparagus, beer, potatoes, fennel, and more.
The hospitality management students participated in a wine competition that required them to be proficient in blind wine tasting, wine service, food and wine pairings label reading and knowledge of grape varietals and wine trends.
Sands Chef Victor Bock was one of the cookoff judges. He called the competition “very stressful,” explaining, “we look at everything”– taste, flavors, textures, creativity and presentation”
The first-place culinary competition winner is Jacob Watson, who currently works at Bolete Restaurant. Second place went to Samantha Lee, a sous chef at Sodexo. Third- and fourth-place winners are Julissa Graziano and Keanith Quinones. Hospitality winners are Kadija Fran, mother of three; and Isabel Da Costa, who has an internship at the Blue Grillhouse.
The students will begin their all-expense-paid, week-long externships in New Orleans in late Fall.