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Emeril brings tempting cuisine to Coast, boosting recovery

Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse has brought his well-known brand to Mississippi with the opening of Emeril’s Gulf Coast Fish House inside the Island View Casino in Gulfport. It’s the first of the Food Network star’s restaurants in the state, his 10th one and first new restaurant project since 2003.

The spacious 9,000-square-foot restaurant seats 200 diners and is one of a handful of businesses now open on busy U.S. 90. This project also debuts Lagasse’s Coastal Creole cuisine, an infusion of New Orleans flavor with Mississippi’s fresh seafood, game and produce.

Lagasse has close ties to the area and has a desire to be part of the Coast’s rebirth. “It made me more and more sad each time I came down here,” he said. “People in other places don’t understand the destruction on the Coast. I hope this restaurant is a small step toward the recovery of this region and brings new attention to its unique food, culture, and abundant fresh seafood.”

The chef/restaurateur is also pleased to be associated with the local owners of the Island View, Rick Carter and Terry Green. “I am happy to be working with them,” he said. “When I understood their vision, I wanted to be a part of it.”

Lagasse’s wife, Alden, grew up in Gulfport where her parents still live. The Lagasses lost a home in Pass Christian to Hurricane Katrina. They are also close friends with Mississippian Robin Roberts of the “Good Morning America” television program.

“We always came to the Coast to visit family and friends and relax, not work,” he said, “but this restaurant is special and I want it to be a landmark on the Coast.”

His goal is to make as many people happy as possible when they dine at Emeril’s Gulf Coast Fish House. “The most important thing is to be the best local restaurant for people here and make others want to come here to visit and spend money here.”

Lagasse did not merely attach his name to his latest restaurant project. He is spending several weeks in Gulfport cooking, training staff and getting the business off to a good start. “We meet every day and are trying to get it right,” he said. “I look at the young culinarians and see their excitement.”

Putting 95 local people to work is also gratifying to this restaurant owner. One of those, Catherine Neville of D’Iberville, sees it as the greatest job opportunity she’s ever had. “I have an associate’s degree in hotel and restaurant management, so working here is perfect for me,” she said. “I want to learn all I can and advance.”

Business is good at the new venture. “It’s been a thrill,” Lagasse said. “People are so nice and appreciative of what we’re doing. It’s one of the best openings ever, and they’re not easy to do. We have a great staff here. They believe and have hope.”

Island View managing owner Rick Carter said having the new restaurant means a lot and makes the casino a real player.

“There’s no question that adding Emeril’s restaurant will pay off,” he said. “We’re extremely proud of it. When we created the dream for Island View, we said we would aim for the very best for this resort and in turn for our hometown area. I can not thank him and his staff enough for joining us as Island View continues its commitment to revitalizing the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

The chef de cuisine Steve D’Angelo and general manager Jason Lonigro will serve a variety of dishes, including classic New Orleans barbecued shrimp, Mississippi catfish and quail, Emeril’s famous banana cream pie and new additions such as crispy jumbo lump crabmeat cake and shrimp and grits.

“We’re supporting the fishermen and farmers in Mississippi with the menu,” Lagasse said. “I’ve worked with some of them for 20 years.”

Another Emeril’s restaurant is scheduled to open in Las Vegas in January 2008, but he said each one is different. “These are not cookie-cutter restaurants,” he said. “There won’t be another one like this one in Gulfport.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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