Stadium seating like only Las Vegas can do. Emeril Lagasse took his love of sports and food and
melds it into "Lagasse's Stadium"
Sports and food. It used to be, “baseball” and “hot dogs”. If you’ve been going to a Major League Baseball game over the last several years, you know how that has changed. The back story to new stadium development has been reaching a broader fan base—those that might see the ballpark itself being part of the attraction as much as the game. With that, the food offerings have grown from a ‘dog and a beer to everything from garlic fries, to sushi, and beyond.
When it comes to food, arguably one the most popular chefs in the US, and throughout the world, is Emeril Lagasse.
Be it on television, through books, or his restaurants, if the name “Emeril” doesn’t ring a bell, he’s the chef that everyone knows for his catch phrase, “Bam!” as he adds touches to his cuisines.
But, Lagasse is also a huge sports fan. Having grown up in Fall River, Massachusetts, he grew up seeing the Red Sox play at Fenway Park. Since moving to New Orleans, he’s become a staple at Saints games.
So, when you talk popular chefs and sports, Lagasse is the one that most comes to mind. So, it made sense that if a star restaurateur was going to do a sports related bar/restaurant in Las Vegas, the one that could best pull it off would be Emeril Lagasse.
We were invited to fly to Las Vegas to the gala party, unveiling Lagasse’s 20,000 square creation at The Palazzo late in September for a firsthand look, talk the evolution of stadium food, and see how it all tied in with how, what is called “Lagasse’s Stadium”, came about. The results is a “tailgate” menu that Emeril Lagasse and his staff have created that runs from Creole Shrimp Salad Sandwiches to Open-faced Ahi Tuna Melts to Emeril’s New Orleans BBQ Strips (see the complete menu here – PDF). The gala party for its opening saw a who’s who of star athletes from Andre Agassi, to Danica Patrick, to Warren Sapp, Gary Payton, Derrick Fisher, Dara Torres, and Bruce Jenner. That was on top of the movie and television stars that came, as well .
(See a full review of Lagasse’s Stadium, along with pictures of some of those that attended on The Biz of Football).
Just mere minutes before the party started, we sat down with Lagasse for this interview. The engaging and entertaining personality you see on television is exactly what the man is in person – someone that seems to find food and sports fun and a joy to take in. The following interview talks about how stadium food has changed, how he approached the design and food for Lagasse’s Stadium, which athlete he might have cook for him, and finally, which stadium has the best food in America. – Maury Brown
Select Read More to read the interview with Emeril Lagasse
Maury Brown for the Business of Sports Network: It used to be, when you thought of the food at a ballgame, the only options that came to mind were hot dogs, and maybe peanuts. It’s certainly changed over the last few years. How did do you think the change came about?
Emeril Lagasse: Well I think that stadium ballpark food has made a huge movement. Just like Las Vegas did 15 years ago. Fifteen years ago, guys at the MGM figured out, “You know what? We know how to do a U2 concert. We know how to do a bull fight. We can do room service for 5,000 rooms, but were not restaurateurs.” So, they were the first ones really on The Strip that approached restaurateurs and chefs and tours to do great restaurants in their hotels.
Same thing that’s happening right now in stadiums. I grew up in Fenway Park. Fenway Franks. Gulden’s Mustard. When you had your choice, it was either hot dogs that were floating in beer, hamburgers that were probably cooked four hours ago, bag of peanuts maybe, maybe some sort of chips; that was the menu. Go to the Mets’ new stadium now, there’s Danny Myer’s Shake Shack, an incredible hamburger place. My Friend, great pizza place from Brooklyn serving pizza and antipastos. The whole scene has changed. I go to San Francisco and take in a game at AT&T Park, they have sushi. I’m like chow mein? It’s unbelievable, but that’s the food movement that’s happening I think.
So here (at Lagasse’s Stadium), I looked at all those places. I took some of my favorite stadium and ballpark food, and we “Emerilized” it. Then we got my culinary team together and said, “What are some of your favorites?” So, on the menu here, you can get a French dip, to a caprici salad, to [buffalo] wings, to a great hot dog, to New Orleans barbeque shrimp to a poor boy. So, I think it’s really come a long way.
Brown: We were talking about the concept of Lagasse's Stadium; the idea of having it be a destination. People will want to come. If you make this a sports book, it’s just a sports book, but this is really a destination isn’t it?
Lagasse: Yeah, I mean this is really more than that. The sports book was actually an afterthought. When they approached me with what I would do with this space, and I looked at the space, I told them… I said to Rob Goldstein, the President of The Venetian, which includes The Palazzo, and his team, “It’s impossible. There’s no way you can do a restaurant here. It’s too big; it’s 22,000 square feet. Unless you want to do multiple layers of concepts in one.” But to do it… Well, what would you do with it? What I would do with it, I’d make it a sports bar. I’d make a sports bar that would just put Las Vegas upside down; like they’ve never seen. They had already invested into massive HD televisions in the space. So then he said to me, “Well would you do it for me?” “Yeah,” I said, “But a couple of things need to change.” First of all, I know you spent a lot of money on these TV’s, but you’ve got to buy more – top quality Hi-Def displays. Number two, why would I want to come here? Just for great food and to watch TV? It’s got to be more. It’s got to be an environment. We’ve got to make it fun. We’ve got to make it hip. Girls have to want to come here just as much as guys want to come here. So we’ve got to figure out how to do that. One of the things I brought up was, I want to make a bet. It’s Saturday football. It’s Sunday football. I’m a football junkie. I’m a sports junkie, which is why I’m doing this thing in the first place, because I’m really a restaurateur. But my wife and I are such football freaks, and such sports fanatics; I make TV, I don’t watch TV. When I watch, I watch sports. So I’ve got to make this space that would become Lagasse’s Stadium better. Before it was done, you had to walk all the way over to The Venetian’s sports book, and you can’t get a bloody seat in that place. Have you ever tried to go over there on a Saturday? It’s absolutely packed; you won’t even get a seat. So I said, why don’t you put some of the sports book in front of the restaurant. And that idea was pretty successful, we decided to put it inside the sports book. So now I’ve got my own sports book here. You want to get up between your hot dog and place a five dollar bet? You can walk right down there and place a bet. You don’t have to walk all the way down to the The Venetian, nothing against them, I love The Venetian… But it’s fun here. It’s really, really fun. The hot dog cart; the burger station; the tequila bar, it’s fun. You come poke your head in here tomorrow at 10 am, this place will be packed; it’s like a frat house. They’ll be games, all different kinds of games. The featured game will be on the main screen. We put some gaming inside of here too. What do you do at halftime? What are you going to do at the end of games between games? Maybe you want to play video poker, or video blackjack, whatever the case may be. I don’t know if you saw the little hidden casino that we have right at the front of the restaurant. It’s guarded, it’s concealed from minors of course. Do you want to play blackjack real quick? Do you want to play your hand on a slot machine? Go ahead, knock yourself out. It’s fun. It’s really, really fun.
Brown: If there was an athlete that could cook for you -- a friend of yours -- who would have cook for you?
Lagasse: Athletes? (pauses and smiles)… I’ve got a lot of music friends that I would have cook for me, but athletes?
Brown: They’re not good cooks, so you always cook for them? (laughs)
Lagasse: (laughs) Yeah, pretty much… I’m pretty good friends with Andre Agassi. Tomorrow I’ll be doing his event as I have for 13 years. I know Andre can grill a steak, but I wouldn’t say he can cook. He’s a hell of a guy though, an incredible tennis player and a great human being…. Bruce Jenner, he’s coming. I don’t really see him as a cook. Warren Sapp, he’s coming tonight…. Gee, I don’t know. Now, if you asked me that from a music perspective I could say, “I know Sammy Hagar could whip up something for us.”
Brown: Well, he’s got the Cabo Wabo Tequila.
Lagasse: Billy Joel would probably whip us up a good bowl of pasta… But, can’t think of any athletes off the top of my head.
Brown: You talked about stadium food... If you’re going to pick one stadium that’s got the best food right now, what would it be?
Lagasse: I’m blown away right now. I’ve got to tell you something. I saw this movement coming. You know, like I said I was going to San Francisco, I went to a game as I happened to have a little time, and they had sushi, and chow mein. And of course I grew up in Fenway Park. But right now, I’m spending a lot of time in New York which is where my television show is based, and I can’t believe these new stadiums. The new Yankee Stadium and the new Citi Field for the Mets… I can’t say which is better to be honest with you because they each went out after a different market. Before you’d go out to a food service company like Aramark, right? You’d come in and these guys didn’t know whether to scratch their watch or wind their butt. To them it was just like, you’ve got the standard fare, and that’s what you’re getting. It’s kind of like that with my seats that I have in New Orleans for the Saints. It’s kind of like, you can’t go out of the box; they haven’t gotten there yet. But there are places like the new Yankee Stadium, new Mets Stadium that has Shake Shack –Danny Myers the hottest burger joint in New York City. So I say to myself, what’s the New York Giants Stadium going to be like, now? What are they going to do? Because the Yankees went after the best Italian restaurant, they’ve got a Chinese restaurant, it’s crazy. It’s wild. And, I’m just blown away at how great stadium food is now.
- Interview conducted on September 25, 2009
- Special thanks to Diana Bures of dOMAIN; Ashley Farkas , public relations for The Venetian and The Palazzo, and; Mimi Rice, VP Communications for Emeril brand at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
- Extra special thanks goes to Business of Sports Network Assistant to the Editor, Nick Kappel for transcription, and Business of Sports Network staff member Evan Nuckles for photo assistance.
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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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