NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Don't look for rattlesnake or processed cheese in any of Emeril Lagasse's recipes. Only fresh ingredients are on his menus and will be as long as the Gulf oil spill does not hurt supplies.
Lagasse, who worked in a local Portuguese bakery while growing up in Massachusetts, turned down a music scholarship to pursue a culinary career. After stints perfecting his skill in France, Lagasse now owns several restaurants.
The chef, cookbook author and television personality who is know for his New Orleans-style cooking and enthusiastic "Bam!" exclamations, spoke to Reuters about the impact of the Gulf oil spill, the links between music and cooking and the biggest challenges of restaurant work.
Q: Where do you find recipe inspiration?
A: "It really starts with the ingredients -- seasonality and ingredients. There's a movement about sustainability, there's a movement about farm to fork-- well, I've been doing that for 35 years. When you have a great product, you have great food. And that's my philosophy in everything I do."
Q: Any other inspirations?
A: "I have a music background. I turned down a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music to pay to go to cooking school. So music is in my head all the time. Music makes people happy like food makes people happy.
"On a personal note, I'm very connected to the soil and very connected to the sea. The ocean does something magical for me."
Q: Speaking of the ocean, how has the Gulf oil spill affected your businesses?
A: "My restaurants are okay right now. There's a major shortage of oysters, shrimp is at maybe 70 percent. A lot of the Gulf is still open and producing fish. We may use some sustainable aqua-culture. I have been doing that for 15 years already when it comes to red fish and trout. We'll do what we've got to do and do the best that we can."
Q: Have you changed your menus?
A: "As of right now, we've not had to do that. At the same time, we've got a mess on our hands. I don't think most people know how big of a mess we have. This is going to be more than your and my lifetime, and probably more than our children's lifetimes in terms of (recognizing and fixing) the damage this is doing to the ecosystem.
"I rode on oil a couple of weeks ago when I was down there. I went through a couple of oil patches when I was out with my boat. It's a very sad situation."
Q: How do you juggle the demands of being a well-known personality along with your love of cooking?
A: "Whatever I do, I approach it with love. If I didn't love it, I wouldn't do it. It doesn't matter if I'm in France designing a piece of cookware, or in a field pulling turnips with a farmer. It's all about the food of love."
Q: Is there any aspect of your business you don't love?
A: "I'm dealing with a human element here. The restaurant business is a very tough business. I can't control people. I can't moderate how their day was and how the kids behaved, before they left the house and came to dinner. The people element of things is a juggle. "
Q: Is there anything you don't enjoy cooking?
A: "I don't enjoy cooking anything that's not real food. So I wouldn't cook rattlesnake. That's not my deal. I don't really know what processed stuff really is."
New York Strip with Stilton-Walnut Butter (Serves 4)
Four 10-ounce New York strip steaks
1 cup port wine
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup), at room temperature
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground coarse black pepper
1. Place the steaks in a resealable plastic bag or a shallow container and drizzle the port over them. Seal the bag or cover the container and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, turning the steaks occasionally.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the butter and Stilton until creamy. Stir in the walnuts, using a rubber spatula, transfer the butter to a piece of waxed paper. Wrap the paper around it, forming a log. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
3. Preheat a grill to high, and oil the grate well.
4. Remove the steaks from the marinade (discard the marinade) and pat them dry. Season both sides of the steaks with the salt and pepper. Place the steaks on the hot grill and cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare, or to the desired degree of doneness. Remove the steaks from the grill and let them rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve topped with generous tablespoonfuls of the walnut-Stilton butter.
Note: The walnut-Stilton butter can be kept in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Reporting by Chelsea Emery; Editing by Patricia Reaney