Why Local Produce Is So Important To EJ Lagasse - Exclusive

Local produce is becoming a popular choice for people at home, but for chefs like EJ Lagasse — Chef Patron at Emeril's New Orleans — sourcing ingredients locally is the only way that makes sense. We spoke with Lagasse in an exclusive interview about why he feels so passionately about sourcing his ingredients from the local community. 

The answer for Lagasse is simple: "Nobody loses in the situation." He explained that when he buys locally, "I get the best produce, and the local farmers, genuinely from a monetary standpoint, from a business standpoint, are supported." Obviously, as a chef, it is important to get high-quality ingredients — which are available both locally and shipped from elsewhere — but Lagasse's points on monetary support can not be overlooked. And while some chefs shy away from local produce, citing expensive prices, for Lagasse, that expense pays off; it allows local farms to keep running, and he, as a chef, continues to receive top-quality produce.

"They know what they're doing. I don't have to do anything. They're giving me the best cauliflower you've ever seen, because they've been doing it for 40 years," Lagasse said. "They're good at it. It's what they do. I don't have to worry about the quality of the produce dropping at all."

What is local?

Some question what "local" means, and for EJ Lagasse, the lines can expand depending on what he's sourcing. "It's not just about Louisiana, but it's about supporting the Gulf Coast region when it comes to our produce." Of course, produce is not the only thing a chef needs. Lagasse said, "We have the best seafood in the world at our doorstep. It's right there. We'd be silly not to use it." Lagasse acknowledged that he is lucky in that regard: "That's why so many people use it, even [outside of] New Orleans."

Even when a particular food item isn't initially available, because Lagasse forges personal and community relationships, he is able to work with local producers to get a more comprehensive range of products. Take celtuce, for example. Lagasse describes it as "one of the great vegetables that you don't really see a lot of." He explained, "It has the flavor like the hearts of lettuce, and it's really nice when it's cooked in a pan or anything like that." Since celtuce is less common, it's harder to find for the chef, but he's "working on having some of our local farmers grow some for us now, so I can use it in the spring." We may even find it on the Emeril's menu if we're lucky!

Emeril's New Orleans is now open for dining. For reservations and additional information, please visit Emeril's restaurant website.