Emeril Lagasse‘s long love affair with food and sport began in his hometown of Fall River, Mass., where as a kid he’d follow up a game of baseball in the park with pizza at Marzilli’s Bakery. “They had an old-fashioned coal oven,” recalls the 53-year-old chef, “and their bread and pizza were phenomenal.” During football season, the policy at Lagasse’s home was simple: open door, game on. His mom was head chef and his dad helped with everything from shopping to bartending. “My mom is Portuguese, and food has always been a big part of the household. It was nothing to have 30 to 50 people over watching a game.”
Lagasse’s entertaining impulse runs equally deep, so on Super Bowl Sunday he likes to throw his own special bash. A New Orleanian for three decades—and a Saints season-ticket holder for almost as long—he’s thrilled that next week’s big game will be in the Big Easy. “New Orleans is a great football town,” says the restaurateur, who will hold Super Bowl celebrations all week long in his three local establishments (Emeril’s New Orleans, Emeril’s Delmonico, and NOLA). “The city has extraordinary food, hospitality, and music, plus a vibe that you can’t explain because it’s so cool.”
When hosting at home, he’s learned that meticulous planning allows for pain-free partying. “Your guests aren’t going to have fun if you’re stressed out,” he says. The festivities begin more than an hour ahead of kickoff, “so people are already eating and drinking”—including ladling gumbo stove-side into coffee cups (spoons optional). “I’ll say, ‘Hey, it’s gumbo time—who’s in?’”says Lagasse, who traditionally dresses in the black and gold of his beloved Saints, no matter who’s playing. “There will be a show of hands; okay, we need 25 cups.” As a final touch, Lagasse will hoist a glass and call all comers for a huddle. “It’s just a nice way to say, ‘Cheers! Great Super Bowl coming up!’” Then he’ll grab a plate of wings (“a must for football”) or a grinder, choose his own angle of repose, and lose himself in the onscreen action.
Take a peek behind the scenes at our cover shoot with the entertaining New Orleans chef: