The Head Bitches in Charge, Becca and Cori Sue, were invited to Las Vegas for Bon Appetit magazine’s 9th annual Vegas Uncork’d event. The Bitches were lucky enough to rub elbows with some of the greatest chefs in the world, try some of the best restaurants in Las Vegas, and enjoy all that the city has to offer. This interview is part of the Uncork’d series, featuring stories and interviews from the weekend. Thanks for having us, Bon Appetit!
What happens when two of the country’s top chefs—Michael Mina and Emeril Lagasse—are relegated to being sous chef while a pair of culinary students order them around in a grand battle to make the best possible seafood dish in under 40 minutes?
Well, it’s quite a show, I can assure you.
This spectacle happened in Las Vegas at the Producer’s Pool at the MGM Grand Resort. The event, brought to Vegas Uncork’d by Chase Sapphire Preferred, also treated guests to poolside craft beer and plenty of shucked oysters and seafood. The party continued while Elsa Sabellano Jenstad and Krista Burdick, both students at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, whizzed about on stage, doling out orders to their two esteemed assistants.
The battle ended with Bon Appetit’s editors and judges tasting their creations and trying to decide between the two. Ultimately, Elsa’s dish—prepared in partnership with her sous chef, Emeril Lagasse—won the battle, and she was awarded a $20,000 scholarship from Chase (Krista walked away with $5,000).
Afterwards, I stole a few minutes of Emeril’s time to ask him about brunch, of course. Here’s what he had to say.
Tell me about the history of brunch in New Orleans?
Emeril: Well I think it’s beyond breakfast at Brennan’s. Actually, Antoine’s is just a mere 175 years old. So, I’m sure if you took Chicago and New York together, they wouldn’t even come close to that. Brunches are big time in New Orleans on Saturday and Sunday; it’s not a made-up business plan. It’s a reality of Southern hospitality and New Orleans hospitality combined. We created eye openers, which are brunch cocktails way back when. I’m saying that because I spent 8 years at Commander’s Palace where Saturday and Sunday brunch is just amazing. It’s jazz, balloons, festivity, and the food, and combining that. It’s really something of history that’s been in New Orleans for a long time.
So with that history behind you, what’s your personal philosophy when creating a brunch menu?
Emeril: I like to combine elements of breakfast and lunch together. I like to make it fun and I like the component of music. I also like the component of libations. It’s not just about pancakes, eggs, and bacon. It’s really about getting a little creative. Things like Eggs Hussarde with marchand de vin sauce and Eggs Sardou. I could keep going on and on.
What is your favorite brunch dish to cook?
Emeril: Chicken Pontalba is one of the ones that stands out. Chicken Pontalba is little Brabant potatoes that are sautéed and crispy, pieces of smoked ham, or Tasso could be used. Then there’s a little bit of trinity that’s on the bottom. The chicken has been marinated and it’s just simply grilled with a classic béarnaise sauce. It’s just wonderful.
Another one of my favorites is Eggs Sardou, which is a puree of spinach that’s in a fresh artichoke bottom with poached eggs and a little bit of hollandaise sauce. Another great dish, for sure.
What about brunch cocktails? What do you drink when you’re relaxing?
Emeril: I absolutely love New Orleans cocktails like milk punch and Absinthe Suissesse. I love a good milk punch. Bourbon is really hot right now but milk punches have been hot in New Orleans for a while.