Authors, authors! Celebration: This weekend, bring a healthy appetite - for food as well as words - to Mount Vernon Place

A Book Festival Preview

September 24, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

Emeril Lagasse, chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and TV personality from the town he calls "Nawlins," is expecting the good times to roll when he hits town this weekend for the Baltimore Book Festival II.

"I'm really excited about this event," Lagasse said. Lagasse is using his day off to come to Baltimore, he said, and besides cooking and signing books, "We hope to eat some food and have a lot of fun."

Lagasse will be one of a number of chefs and food professionals demonstrating dishes and signing copies of their new cookbooks at the festival, now in its second year. The event, a two-day celebration of words and the people who write them and the people who read them, takes over Mount Vernon Place for poetry readings, activities for children, booksellers of all varieties, entertainment and food, among other things.

Food for Thought, the cook and cookbook section of the festival, is one of four themed areas. The others are Maryland's Children, the Baltimore Bicentennial Village and the Book Festival Cabaret and Maryland Craft Brew Garden.

This is Lagasse's second trip to Baltimore. "Last year I was fortunate to be invited to the [Old Bay Crab Soup Stakes] crab cook-off," he said, "and I saw a lot of great things about Baltimore -- not just people loving the literary traditions, but the food. It was so exciting to see so many people so excited about the food."

Lagasse, a Louisiana restaurateur who first attracted a national audience with cookbooks celebrating the cooking of New Orleans ("Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking, Morrow, 1993) and of the state ("Louisiana Real and Rustic," Morrow, 1996), now has two shows on the TV Food Network, "The Essence of Emeril," and "Emeril LIVE!."

He's a television natural with his high energy and contagious enthusiasm, but his zeal extends to pretty much everything he touches. At the moment, he's adding to his restaurant empire with the December opening of Delmonico's, a longtime New Orleans favorite that was an offshoot of the more famous Delmonico's in turn-of-the-last-century New York City.

"It was the first in fine service, it was the first in introducing women into the restaurant, it introduced foods like the hamburger and lobster Newburg," Lagasse said, of the New York place. "I have a lot of respect for that era. I'm kind of excited about doing something old."

When the two sisters who had been running the New Orleans Delmonico's for decades retired last year, they asked Lagasse if he would like to take it over. "They knew that if we did it, we would do it right."

Doing it right includes renovating the 8,000-square-foot building not to make it new, but to make sure it has all the old characteristics that made it so popular and that people are so nostalgic for now. An example is a "bar where you can get old, club-style cocktails," he said. "We wanted to keep the history of dining and the dishes, but we wanted to bring in a little bit from New York."

Lagasse, who grew up in Fall River, Mass., and whose heritage is Portuguese and French Canadian, plans to do traditional New Orleans dishes at the restaurant, such as turtle soup, trout Delmonico (sauted with artichokes and mushrooms). "We want to bring them back and revise them a little -- not so they're not what they were, but make them a little more in tune with how people are eating today."

The restaurant will join Emeril's and NOLA in New Orleans, and Emeril's Fish House at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Busy author

In the meantime -- "I don't have any trouble keeping busy," Lagasse says -- he will appear at the book festival to sign copies of his latest book, "Emeril's Creole Christmas."

In the book, written with Louisiana food historian Marcelle Bienvenu (Morrow, 1997, $23), recipes are grouped according to menu: Christmas Eve dinner for 10, Emeril's Christmas Day brunch buffet and New Orleans New Year's dinner are just three of them. Recipes include beef tenderloin with fresh horseradish and black pepper crust, white Cheddar truffle eggs and smoked salmon terrine with Christmas caviar sauce. Each menu is accompanied by an introduction, a shopping list, suggestions for wine, recipes and tips. "I like the shopping lists and the tips on pairing wine and food, but the book is about why that time of year has a special place in my heart."

It's an unabashedly celebratory book, and Lagasse said: "It's a wonderful time of year when people celebrate with a lot of food. People really go that extra mile for family and friends."

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