NEW YORK—It was one of the oddest tickets I’d ever received. We thought we had a seat. Yet the gold and green document informed that obtaining this ticket did not guarantee a room at the inn for a taping of Emeril Live!, the Food Network hit. As airlines do with flights, Food overbooks, distributing more tickets than it has seats on Emeril’s set. 

And no stragglers. You best arrive early, 1 ½ hours before the scheduled taping time, the ticket blared.  

In addition to the usual “no weapons of any kind” (including, presumably, store-bought spices and canned vegetables) and “no cameras, video equipment or recording devices,” some of the other conditions of entry include:

• “the thought is appreciated, but we cannot accept gifts or money for Emeril”
• “dress is casual and comfortable, please refrain from wearing jackets and ties, solid colors are preferred”
• “please no book signings or autographs”

and then the one that almost put me into a state of distress…

• “please understand that we have a very large audience and many people will not get food”

When I finally made it to Chelsea Market, a relatively new NY institution that’s unmarked from the street, I was prepared for a security check akin to entering Ft Knox or a Madonna concert. Instead, Food has an extremely pleasant and efficient group of people greeting audience members. The security check was not a problem and VIP guests, such as myself (hey, CableWorld and CableFAX have to count for something) were ushered upstairs via freight elevator into a modest green room, stocked amply with soda and chips and 2 small TVs showing a loop of Emeril highlights.

“A TABLE”

About 2 hours later we entered epicurean Nirvana, aka a front-row seat in Emeril’s studio, at one of the tables where perhaps we would be ample to sample some grub.

Immediate impressions? Yes, the entire set-up looks brighter and bigger on TV, but not Emeril, who looks plenty big in person, his chef’s whites pulling tight under the strain of his ample girth, reminiscent of how an out-of-shape Harmon Killebrew looked in his form-fitting double knit uniform in 1975, his final season with the Kansas City Royals.

But back to Emeril; once the audience is seated the studio’s atmosphere is a barely controlled electricity—people who come to Emeril’s show know what they’re in for, and they’re dying for it to begin. Their energy is augmented by Emeril’s regular band, headed by Doc Gibbs. Just before the final sound checks, the quintet kicks into straight-ahead jazz, playing standards and displaying a virtuosity that reinforces 2 concepts: There’s nothing like live music—particularly when played by top NY musicians. I beg your pardon, but on this night, the band did more cooking than Emeril (more on that later).

AND THE BAND DOES NOT PLAY ON

The sad thing is that the band doesn’t play during the many commercial breaks. As I recall, it played throughout one break only. Yes, viewers see the band start the break and they’re still playing when the show resumes after commercials, but that’s what happens. The band starts, stops and then picks up again, 30 seconds before Emeril resumes cooking. Still, that was enough for us to see the twinkle in Emeril’s eye when he walked over to the band, as he frequently but always briefly joined in on percussion.

It’s clear he loves live music. For that, God bless him. It’s also clear that while he was talented enough to have been offered a percussion scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in his youth, he’s far more useful when handling drumsticks connected to a turkey’s midsection.

On this night Emeril dispatched rather simple recipes for chocolate concoctions sent by his legion of viewers. Four recipes of thousands were selected by Food’s team and their authors—a diverse group that included a male grad student (in music), a young mother, a young, attractive bank employee from California and a middle-aged housewife from Minnesota—were flown in to ‘supervise’ Emeril, who entertainingly milked that for laughs.

The real funny thing is that on this night, Emeril’s staff did more cooking than the star himself. Three of the four chocolate desserts required hour-long baking or cooling, impossible during a 45-minute show. Thus Emeril’s ‘cooking’ consisted of mixing dry and wet ingredients to the point where the dish went to “the icebox” or the oven. His final product, which each of his guest chefs sampled, was probably made by his staff. Still, he asked did “I do it right?,” again to great comedic effect.

EMERIL SANS PORK FAT IS LIKE FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS ON TUESDAYS

In fact, in an episode devoid of garlic, pork fat and his trademark “bam!” it’s clear Emeril’s the real deal as an entertainer and a person. He enjoys his gig and makes darn sure his audience has a good time, kibitzing with cameramen, making sure Doc Gibbs is following every drop of chocolate and improvising with abandon on his guests’ recipes for comedic if not culinary effect. Told by one of his guest chefs to add eggs one at a time, Emeril proceeded to tip the entire chicken. Urged to let a chocolate layer cool before adding heated caramel to a chocolate cake, Emeril again ignored the recipe, to the crowd’s delight.

For the most part, a taping of Emeril Live is very similar to watching the show at home, with 2 exceptions. The breaks are filled with activity, involving several Food staffers preparing for the next segment, others cutting up and distributing the food just prepared, another wiping down the kitchen counter, security personnel milling about and of course techs. This goes on as Emeril stands back or talks with a staffer, all  the while rap is blaring through speakers (as we said, the band doesn’t play during the breaks). Another thing the home audience doesn’t see, is, during the middle break, Emeril’s distribution of ice cream to every kid in the audience. He does this personally, bending down and welcoming each youngster to pick something from his on-stage freezer. Even some devotees of Emeril are ignorant of his work with and affinity for children. He keeps that quiet by choice.

Of course, a few Emeril-isms seeped into the evening’s chocolate. While mixing chocolate he hummed. One of the recipes called for a shot of Irish cream, Emeril was more generous with his pour. Much more generous. “We can’t afford measuring cups on this show,” he cried to tremendous applause. “If you want measuring cups, watch Bobby Flay’s show.” While mixing a batch of dark chocolate, two kinds of sugar and cream cheese he said, “you spread this on a bumper and it would taste good.”

Speaking of taste, we got a few bites of two of the four chocolate desserts, including the cake with the melted caramel on top, which was excellent. Wine was served, but not at our table. Still, our few bites were enough to whet the appetite. Emeril did that, too, addressing the crowd once the taping was over, thanking people repeatedly for supporting the show. “Hope you go home tonight and eat something good…maybe some chocolate, maybe some vino…and  don’t forget to kiss your kids.” And he was gone.  

The Daily

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