The Holidays Mean Lots Of Fish For Emeril Lagasse - Exclusive

No matter what end-of-year holiday traditions you celebrate, there are no hard and fast rules about what belongs on the dinner menu. From Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanzaa, and a plethora of festive holidays in between, food plays such an integral role in the celebrations. And while there are certainly traditional dishes that go hand in hand with these events, at the end of the day, it comes down to each and every family, and no two tables will look alike.

At Tasting Table, we love learning about, trying out, and above all, tasting different people's unique holiday food traditions, from home cooks to restaurant owners to celebrity chefs. So when we got the chance to catch up recently with the legendary Emeril Lagasse, we had to inquire about how he likes to cook and eat around the holidays. 

The renowned restaurant chef and TV personality grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts, with a Portuguese mother and a French-Canadian father. After mastering his culinary skills in Paris and Lyon, France, he made his way to Louisiana, where he built his career as one of the most influential developers of modern New Orleans cuisine — as well as one of the most prominent pioneers of mainstream cooking television. All of these elements have helped to define Lagasse's culinary identity, which means they all find their place on his holiday table.

In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Emeril Lagasse shed some light on the food traditions that mark this season for him and his family. And given the chef's culinary background, it's no surprise that fish features heavily on the menu.

Holidays mean a lot of seafood for Emeril Lagasse

The holidays are a time to return home, spend time with family, and revel in what matters most. Emeril Lagasse would agree. He told Tasting Table, "During the holidays, the biggest influence is really my mom." 

While he could no doubt put together a French Creole-inspired spread fit for a fine dining restaurant, the chef says that when it comes to the holidays, he falls back on the traditions he grew up with. For the Lagasse family, that means a lot of seafood. "Christmas Eve ... we do the Feast of the Seven Fishes," he said. 

It's not clear why his family adopted the Italian tradition in their own way, but perhaps it had something to do with their location on the Massachusetts coast, with its abundance of fresh fish. Lagasse himself even admits, "I don't know why it got the term seven fishes, because there was always more." Regardless, he keeps his childhood tradition alive even today, telling Tasting Table, "I still do that at Christmas time at the house with family and a few friends. It's just something that's a tradition."

He embraces New Orleans-inspired holiday dishes

Some of Emeril Lagasse's other favorite holiday dishes are more inspired by his adult life and career as a chef of Cajun and Creole cuisine in New Orleans — which still features a lot of seafood-forward dishes that highlight the specialties of the coastal city. "Oyster dressing in New Orleans would be a tradition," noted Lagasse, along with "crab and corn bisque."

Of course, that doesn't mean the chef doesn't also make room for some non-fish favorites. Lagasse says the holidays aren't complete without "cornbread dressing," as well as "sweet potatoes, of course," and he insists that "you got to have good mashed potatoes and you got to have good gravy, right? No matter if it's Christmas or Hanukkah or Thanksgiving, you've got to have a good gravy."

Watch Emeril Lagasse's newest shows, "Emeril Cooks," and "Emeril Tailgates," available exclusively on the Roku Channel. And visit Chef Lagasse's website to learn more about his restaurants.