Coming Home

New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse gives back to the town that gave him his signature style.

For years, Emeril Lagasse has served as a leading ambassador for New Orleans culture to many around the world. Anyone who eats gourmet food knows his signature “Bam!” and “Kick it up a notch” catchphrases, but few know how much Lagasse has done for New Orleans’s children.

Through the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and its signature fund-raising event -- the Carnivale du Vin, a food-and-wine spectacular that began in 2005 -- Lagasse has raised more than $7.5 million to help children’s arts, culinary, and education programs across the Gulf Coast region. In November, the fifth annual Carnivale returned to Las Vegas, the city that hosted the event in its inaugural year.

The foundation has focused much of its giving on schools in New Orleans, including the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, the Good Shepherd School, and St. Michael Special School. In 2008, a $300,000 grant to the St. Michael Special School, which serves special-needs students, paid for the construction of Emeril’s Culinary Center, a multiuse space for academic, social, and vocational education. The center features a commercial kitchen and two apartment-style kitchens in which students learn work and life skills.

The gift was only the latest in a long association between Lagasse and the school.

“The students at St. Michael are incredibly eager to learn,” Lagasse says. “Every time I visit the school, I am amazed by how much joy they have from being in the kitchen. We wanted to provide them with a bright, safe, and accessible place where they can learn how to prepare a meal and then sit down at the table and enjoy what they cooked together. Cooking is an important step toward them living on their own. It’s definitely one of the foundation’s most rewarding projects.”

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