© David Gallent / Jeneé Taylor
As one of the extraordinary members of F&W’s Chefs Make Change coalition, New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse helps at-risk young people through his Emeril Lagasse Foundation. One of Lagasse’s favorite partnerships is with the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), where he recently challenged culinary students to create a recipe with regional flavors for his “Dish That Makes a Difference” contest. This year’s winner is Janeé Taylor, an 18-year-old NOCCA graduate currently enrolled as a freshman at Johnson & Wales University. Her “Louisiana Surf and Turf” made with grilled rib eye, seafood mashed potatoes and Cajun asparagus will be featured on the menu at Lagasse’s restaurants in New Orleans, Las Vegas and Orlando throughout the month. Raising awareness for the programs, $5 from every dish will be donated back to the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. Here, Taylor talks about inspiration and plans for the future.
How did you capture NOLA in your dish?
I think it comes through in the spiciness of my dish and the Cajun flavors that you can taste upfront. I used Zatarain’s black pepper, Emeril’s Essence, paprika and garlic powder. The seafood, of course, plays a major role, because we produce a lot of crawfish and shrimp in New Orleans.
How did you get into cooking?
I started cooking when I was seven years old, with my grandmother. She had her own catering company. Every day after school, I would choose to go in the kitchen and help her with her meals. I chose to do that over hanging out with friends and my sisters. She was the one who taught me how to make a blond roux, which gave me an advantage in one of my labs at Johnson & Wales.
What are the benefits of winning?
The Emeril Foundation and chef Emeril himself opened a lot of doors for me, whether it be through networking opportunities or opportunities to work at different restaurants. I always get asked, “Do you get money for this dish?” And I say no, I get recognition—which is one of the most important factors in the culinary industry.
What do you want to do next?
After graduating from Johnson & Wales Iplan to work at a restaurant—preferably Emeril’s—and then branch out. Then I plan on opening my own restaurant and starting a charity, because I would like to give back to the community, just like people helped me when I had troubles growing up.