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FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

Beyond "The French Chef"

Julia’s The French Chef inspired a flood of new cooking shows and culinary stars throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1993, a new cable channel, Television Food Network, turned cooking and food shows into twenty-four-hour entertainment. She proved that cooking shows had to be entertaining—not just educational—and established a formula used by future television chefs.

Cooking Live

Emeril Live, the first live Food Network program, began airing in 1997. The show’s success, combined with nationwide appearances, made Emeril Lagasse one of the most recognized chefs in the country. As he demonstrated a genuine fusion of his native Massachusetts Portuguese cuisine with flavors from France, Louisiana, and the southwestern United States, he helped inspire a new recognition and acceptance of fine regional American food.

On the set of Emeril Live, about 2000

On the set of Emeril Live, about 2000

Courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

Chef jacket

Trained in culinary school, Emeril worked in France and various American cities before moving to New Orleans. This jacket is from his first New Orleans restaurant, Emeril’s, which opened in 1990. He often wore a chef’s jacket on his television shows and in his public appearances. Gift of Emeril Lagasse.

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Cookbook, 1993

Cookbook, 1993

Emeril’s first cookbook demonstrated his innovative interpretations of traditional Creole cuisine.

Gift of Emeril Lagasse


Plate, about 1990s

Emeril opened NOLA, his second New Orleans restaurant, in 1992.  Combining New Orleans Creole and Cajun cuisine with influences from Vietnam and the American Southwest, NOLA reflects the cultural fusion of Emeril’s adopted city. Gift of Emeril Lagasse.

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Cooking Competitions

In the 2000s, dramatic competitions began to draw larger audiences than traditional “how-to” programs. The shows challenged chefs to compete against one another—and the clock—while preparing dishes with odd and surprising ingredients.

Chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger bridged both worlds. They cooked as the Too Hot Tamales on Food Network from 1995 to 1999 and competed on Top Chef Masters in the 2010s.