What Anthony Bourdain Really Thought About Emeril Lagasse

For a guy who hated the Food Network as much as he said he did, Anthony Bourdain sure watched a lot of it. The popular chef, author, and TV personality made a guest appearance on another author/chef's blog in 2007. The other chef was Michael Ruhlman, a close friend who appeared a few times on Bourdain's travel/food shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown (via Food & Wine).

This particular Bourdain tirade against the Food Network was almost lost to history. Ruhlman's blog isn't online anymore, but Bourdain's entry can be found on the internet-archive site the Wayback Machine. Bourdain doesn't pull any punches in his unapologetic survey of Food Network stars who were active at the time. Some of them Bourdain downright despised. In his mind, Rachael Ray represented the dumbing-down of cooking on TV, reassuring the viewer "that mediocrity is quite enough." Sandra Lee, meanwhile, "seems on a mission to kill her fans, one meal at a time."

Bourdain's review of Emeril Lagasse and his Food Network show was mixed. As for the man himself, Bourdain said Lagasse was a "really nice guy" who "deserves a lot more respect than I've given him." But Bourdain said he hated the show, calling it "unwatchable."

This 2007 blog post actually catches Bourdain somewhere in the middle of his evolving feelings toward Lagasse. Bourdain eventually would come to understand the chef who found TV celebrity before he did, and who really wasn't all that different from him.

Bourdain: 'Emeril was actually a real chef once'

Bourdain fans who read his 2000 book Kitchen Confidential learned that Bourdain at that time saw Lagasse as "fuzzy" and "Ewok-like" (via Eater). He didn't think much of the Food Network founding father's cooking, either. But just one year later, as Bourdain was beginning to get his own taste of what celebrity was really like, he was already changing his tune a little bit about Lagasse. By this time, Bourdain had realized that television fame necessarily means you have to sell out. "I find myself feeling empathy for the guy," Bourdain wrote in A Cook's Tour from 2001.

While still observing that TV celebrity means profoundly compromising your authenticity, Bourdain had kinder things to say about Lagasse in a new edition of Kitchen Confidential, published in 2007. "Emeril was actually a real chef once," Bourdain wrote. "I hear from mutual friends that he's good in a bar fight — something that only raises him in my estimation."

In that same year, Bourdain jumped on his friend Ruhlman's blog. "As much as I hate the show," Bourdain blogged, referring to Lagasse's long-running Emeril Live, "compared to the current crop of culinary non-entities, he looks like (famous and influential French chef Auguste) Escoffier. He will probably be the last of the real chefs."

Bourdain came to understand and even admire Lagasse

By the time Bourdain's book Medium Raw came out, in 2010, he had come to understand and even admire Lagasse. As told by Eater, Bourdain relates a story in Medium Raw about the time he asked Lagasse why he still continued to do silly, soul-killing television even though he was already wealthy and successful. Lagasse's answer, as Bourdain told it, was that his fame and success came from building an empire, and hundreds of people now relied on that empire for their own livelihoods. It was the responsible thing to do. Bourdain ended up writing a scene for Lagasse for the HBO drama Treme, based on that insight.

After Bourdain killed himself, on June 8, 2018, Lagasse posted a statement on Twitter: "I'm shocked and extremely saddened by the tragic loss of such an inspiring man. Tony was a great soul, a mentor, a friend, a father, and an incredible chef." Bourdain once dismissed Lagasse as "Ewok-like," but in the end, he really thought of Lagasse as a friend.

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