Bobby Flay Vs Emeril Lagasse: A Clash Of Culinary Styles

While chefs Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse seem to have much in common — both are wildly successful, with long-standing television careers and popular restaurants — the way they each approach cooking is distinctly unique.

Flay started his culinary career in New York, where he worked as a teenager at Joe Allen's. Shortly after, he was part of the first graduating class of the French Culinary Institute and took jobs working for Jonathan Waxman, who planted the seed of his interest in Southwestern cuisine. Flay opened Mesa Grill in New York in 1991, which existed for 22 years, and he started making television appearances a few years later on Food Network.

Lagasse, although originally from Massachusetts, traveled the world to learn cooking techniques after graduation from Johnson and Wales University. He started his career at Commander's Palace when he was just 23, spending eight years there. The restaurant is one of the most famous New Orleans institutions. Lagasse started his first establishment, Emeril's Restaurant, in 1990 in New Orleans, and got his first show, "How To Boil Water," in 1993. Both chefs have come a long way since the 1990s and have carved a distinct niche in the culinary world.

Bobby Flay draws inspiration from Southwestern cooking

While Bobby Flay has dabbled in a variety of cuisines, he's perhaps best known for his takes on traditionally Southwest American dishes and his penchant for grilling. Both the New York and Las Vegas locations of Flay's Mesa Grill (which also inspired an eponymous cookbook) are now closed, but the recipes integrated Southwestern flavors. Southwestern cuisine comes from Indigenous American and Mexican heritage and traditionally uses ingredients such as corn, beans, and — perhaps Flay's favorite — chiles. 

Knowing this, you can see the influence in Flay's Mesa Grill recipes in everything from midday salads and evening entrees down to Southwestern brunch complete with guava and papaya mimosas. As a bonafide grillmaster, Flay puts his own spin on classics like Beer Can Chicken and grilled Margherita pizza and even created a cookbook and show for Food Network titled "Grill It! with Bobby Flay." On the show, Flay and his home-cook guests tried all sorts of different grill recipes, featuring everything from burgers to shrimp to artichokes.

Emeril Lagasse is best known for New Orleans-style dishes

When you hear about celebrity chef and entrepreneur Emeril Lagasse, you probably think of his most well-known cuisine, which he refers to as "New New Orleans." Like Southwestern food, New Orleans cuisine is infused with Indigenous heritage but also incorporates African and European components. One crossover ingredient in both Southwestern and New Orleans dishes is beans — but traditional New Orleans dishes favor red beans as opposed to black beans, and the spices used tend toward bay leaves and thyme over chiles. 

While training to cook in New Orleans, Lagasse consumed books, papers, and other restaurant menus, as well as meeting local fishermen and farmers, to learn everything there was to know about the local cooking techniques, which included Cajun and Creole cuisine. Though similar, Cajun food, like smoked meats and crawfish, comes from French settlers and Creole food is a mix of European, African, and Native American cuisines and typically uses a tomato-based sauce. Both are now the basis for most of Lagasse's dishes. He told Tasting Table when asked, "That's really the foundation of what my food is." 

Bobby Flay believes in the fundamentals

While some chefs use special maneuvers or shortcuts in the kitchen, not Bobby Flay. Perhaps because of his long career in traditional kitchens — starting at the rigorous French Culinary Institute — Flay is a purist for doing things correctly, no matter how long it takes. In an interview with Tasting Table, Flay revealed, "I'm a stickler for the fundamentals. A lot of times I will strip new cooks of their 'tricks' for getting food to the plate to make sure every step is taken to get it right."

During an appearance on "The Rachael Ray Show," Flay doubled down on the sentiment in a segment called "The Basics According To Bobby Flay." Instead of trying to make the steaks he was cooking brown faster or utilizing fancy pan techniques, he placed the meat in the cast iron skillet and walked away, encouraging home chefs to let the pan take care of the cooking, to make the meal as delicious as possible.

Emeril Lagasse likes flair in cooking

If you've ever heard Emeril Lagasse's signature "Bam!" or "Let's kick it up a notch" catchphrases, you know he is less of a traditionalist than Bobby Flay. Lagasse likes to be dramatic in the kitchen and playful and silly in his television appearances: He pours extra alcohol into drinks, lights huge fires, dons costumes, and plays characters.

His over-the-top personality inspired executives at Food Network to create "How To Boil Water," Lagasse's first show in the early 1990s. At the time, most cooking shows were rather low-key and straightforward. Chef Aaron Sanchez told Saveur that Lagasse changed all that, saying, "Emeril added flair. He was like the OG, you know?"

"How To Boil Water" eventually led to a live show, a cooking show, an ongoing correspondent slot on "Good Morning America," and a sitcom for Lagasse. While his brand of feistiness wasn't for everyone, it won over viewers and up-and-coming chefs looking for fun in the kitchen.

Bobby Flay is all over television

Emeril Lagasse isn't the only chef with multiple television shows and appearances, however — Bobby Flay likes the spotlight, as well. As of 2024, Flay has hosted almost two dozen cooking shows and specials, and appeared as himself on such television shows as "Younger" and "Entourage." 

Flay made a name for himself in the reality-show-style competition space with multiple guests every week. What characterizes Flay's shows is his intense energy and the competitive spirit on set, however, it's not all contention. In an appearance on The Drew Barrymore Show, Flay revealed he actually enjoys losing on "Beat Bobby Flay," and he launched the show to "create a stage for chefs around the country." 

Starting in 1996 with "Grillin & Chillin," Flay established himself as a Food Network regular, although he wouldn't get into the competition-style shows he became known for until about ten years later with "Throwdown with Bobby Flay." His first solo show was "Boy Meets Grill," integrating his love of grilling technique with his hometown of New York. You'll likely also see Flay pop up as a guest co-host on "The Today Show," or doing interviews on "Entertainment Tonight," and the third season of "Bobby's Triple Threat" has been announced to return in 2024.

Emeril Lagasse has largely backed out of the spotlight

While Bobby Flay has upped his television appearances over the past few years, Emeril Lagasse has only recently returned from a television hiatus. "Emeril Live," Lagasse's Food Network show, ran for eleven seasons but was canceled in 2007. Lagasse continued to make a handful of one-off appearances, like a spot as himself on the short-lived "Treme" and as a special guest on "Good Morning America," but he has focused on opening and running his restaurant empire more than making appearances on camera.

Lagasse told GQ that he wasn't into the reality TV format that Flay embraced, and wanted to instead "teach people how to cook, how to eat, how to serve, how to shop, how to drink wine, how to mix a cocktail properly." He didn't re-enter the television arena until the highly-rated "Top Chef" season in New Orleans, where he felt more comfortable. His new show for Roku, "Emeril Cooks," premiered in 2022. On it, Lagasse is primarily covering both traditional Louisiana dishes and his own, unique takes.

The chef also occasionally makes videos for the Emeril YouTube channel with his son and fellow chef, E.J., and you can also frequently see Lagasse plugging his own branded kitchen items in infomercials, such as an air fryer and non-stick pans, where he takes a hands-on approach with demonstrations and cooking lessons.

Bobby Flay owns fewer restaurants than Emeril Lagasse

Although Mesa Grill was Bobby Flay's first and signature restaurant, it has since closed both locations in New York and Las Vegas. Currently, Flay owns and operates Bobby's Burger Palace, with locations in Connecticut and Georgia, Bobby's Burgers in three states (with plans for expansion), and Amalfi and Brasserie B, both in Las Vegas. While he used to own a few more (Shark, Bar Americain, Bolo), Flay seems more focused on his current properties rather than starting new ventures, partially due to his shooting schedules. Long days on set in New York or Los Angeles would certainly prevent Flay from being full-time in a kitchen, but also, take time from supervising menus, hiring and training staff, and overseeing operations.

However, Emeril Lagasse's current restaurant ownership portfolio beats Flay's. Lagasse lays claim to Emeril's and Meril in New Orleans, Emeril's Coastal in Florida, and Emeril's New Orleans Fish House and Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas. The chef also has three floating restaurants aboard Carnival cruise ships: Emeril's Bistro 1396 aboard Carnival Mardi Gras, Emeril's Bistro 1397 aboard Carnival Celebration, and Emeril's Bistro 717 aboard Carnival Jubilee. In total, Lagasse has opened more than 20 restaurants in his career, likely also due to his ability to be more physically present for openings as he opted out of demanding shooting schedules.

Both chefs agree on using more seasoning

Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse agree that the secret to effective cooking is the seasoning. On her eponymous talk show, Flay told Rachael Ray, "I think for the most part, the home cook seasons a little more timid than the professional chef." He then proceeded to show the audience how much salt and pepper he would use when seasoning a thick steak — and it was a healthy handful. He encourages cooks to use more than they think they should to bring out all the flavors of a meal.

And then back to the "Bam!" Emeril Lagasse has always believed in the power of seasoning, particularly with his own special blend of Creole magic. He recommends using his Essence Creole Seasoning, containing paprika, cayenne pepper, and dried leaf oregano, on everything from chicken to pork to shrimp, to give a "kicked-up flavor" to a variety of dishes. Or, if you want a taste of Lagasse's signature flavor without the heat, you're in luck — Lagasse has a recipe for Baby Bam, a milder version of Essence for younger and more sensitive palates. It goes to show that even if you're a child, Lagasse believes you should be seasoning your food!

Bobby Flay believes in a healthy breakfast

You might think that chefs are always reinventing the wheel, but when it comes to breakfast, Bobby Flay typically sticks to a healthy combination of fruit and Greek yogurt or a smoothie incorporating the same, though occasionally enjoys eggs and bacon. Despite his tendency to eat the same thing almost every day, Flay has developed a variety of breakfast recipes. These are mostly healthy, too, including a frittata with peppers, onions, and a roasted cherry tomato sauce, or even a granola pizza with oats, banana, and — you guessed it — Greek yogurt.

As a point of comparison, Lagasse is seemingly not as health-conscious when it comes to his breakfast recipes. When hosting the annual Mother's Day "Breakfast in Bed" contest on "Good Morning America," he  suggested recipes such as buttermilk pancakes, candied bacon, and cheesy eggs. Sure, it's a special occasion, but even Lagasse's breakfast episode of "Essence of Emeril" included a Southwest cheese tart and pecan pancakes with boar sausage.

Emeril Lagasse loves banana desserts

If there's one fruit Emeril Lagasse loves to use, particularly in desserts, it's the trusty banana. In the 1950s, New Orleans became a major port of entry for bananas entering the country from Central and South America, which is how the traditional Bananas Foster was born. Lagasse has his own recipe that calls for four bananas in addition to banana liqueur (and rum, of course). Another dessert Lagasse favors is his grilled banana splits with hot fudge and rum caramel sauce, which calls for six bananas (and more rum). Then there's his famous banana cream pie with caramel drizzle and chocolate sauce and his Bananas Foster bread pudding, which uses half a dozen bananas and lots of sweet alcohol.

It's true that Bobby Flay also uses bananas, but rather than load them up with more sugar, he'll mostly keep them on the healthier side, like throwing them on the grill and plating them with some fresh mint. He also loves a grilled peach or a grilled apple, giving slightly more variety to his fruit-based dessert selections.

Both chefs love a Christmas Eve celebration

While it's clear both Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse have spent their careers creating distinctive styles and signature dishes, they agree on creating a somewhat similar festive Christmas Eve for friends and family. Flay, in true TV star fashion, invited Food Network cameras and a few select fellow Iron Chefs to his table in 2015 for the culinary celebration. Flay explained that his family tends to celebrate Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day, enjoying a traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes, or his father's favorite rack of lamb. 

Lagasse also enjoys a Seven Fishes meal for the holiday, telling Tasting Table he's influenced by his mom. "I still do that at Christmas time at the house with family and a few friends," he revealed. "It's just something that's a tradition." The chef is so fond of the tradition, that it was featured on his show "Emeril's Table" and Lagasse started putting the annual meal on the Emeril's Coastal menu in Florida.

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