The Massachusetts-born master of one-liners, Emeril Lagasse began his cooking career washing dishes at a Portuguese bakery. After graduating from the Johnson and Wales culinary program in Rhode Island, he spent several years in France before moving to New Orleans in 1982 to work at the Commander’s Palace, where he replaced cooking legend Paul Prudhomme as the restaurant’s executive chef.
In 1990 he opened his own restaurant, Emeril’s. His unique approach to Cajun food, which he dubbed the “new New Orleans,” resulted in a best-selling book of the same name and two failed shows on Food Network. But then came Emeril’s Essence, which combined live music, a studio audience and a flurry of Emeril’s signature zingers like “Bam!” “Feel the love!” and “Kick it up a notch!” Today, Lagasse owns and operates eight restaurants nationwide and has even taken his cooking into space; he teamed up with NASA in 2006 to send members of the International Space Station a special treat: zero-gravity-friendly versions of his jambalaya and mashed potatoes. He’s since done commercials for Crest toothpaste, starred in a short-lived NBC sitcom (called, what else, Emeril) and showed up during the 100th episode of TLC’s Jon & Kate Plus 8 as a surprise guest. And if you want to own something with his name, face or signature on it — Bam! — Lagasse also markets his own spices, cookware, kitchen applies, cutlery and sauces.