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Get Out Of The Kitchen: Inside The Emeril Lagasse Foundation

When famed chef and restaurateur Emeril Lagasse opened his seafood-meets-Italian restaurant at Grand Boulevard in 2017, he did it as much to be involved in the community as he did to serve delicious dishes. Since then, Lagasse has invested more than $2 million into the area through the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, feeding not only the palate but people in need.

The Emeril Lagasse Foundation, founded in 2002, is headquartered in New Orleans but puts on events across the country. The Florida Panhandle holds a special place in Lagasse’s heart, with both Emeril’s Coastal and his primary residence within the boundaries of Walton County.

Photo courtesy Shelly Swanger

“Anywhere we have restaurants is very important to us, but I would say the Emerald Coast is one of our primary, absolute, most important areas nationwide,” said Brian Kish, president of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. “A lot of our donors and friends live there, too, and we like to really focus on the areas where we have so much support.”

Since its inception more than 20 years ago, the foundation bearing the Lagasse name has put on events throughout the country. Their three signature events include Carnivale du Vin in New Orleans;  Line, Vine and Dine in Fort Lauderdale; and, the Chi Chi Miguel Throwdown in Santa Rosa Beach. The latter concluded in April.

According to the foundation’s website, Chi Chi Miguel is a three-day event with a “funding focus to further the foundation’s mission of inspiring, mentoring and enabling youth to reach their full potential through culinary, nutrition and arts education.” The weekend includes a wine dinner prepared by Lagasse, a golf tournament at Burnt Pine Golf Club and a “throwdown” at Churchill Oaks clubhouse that includes a BBQ cook-off, dancing, acclaimed wines and both live and silent auctions. Nearly $1 million is raised during this event alone.

George Brannon Jr., CEO of Setco Services, sits on the foundation’s national advisory council and is all too eager to further its mission in our area.

“Last year, the programs we supported impacted more than 35,000 youth,” Kish said. “The designated beneficiaries of our event in Santa Rosa Beach are the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, Food For Thought Outreach, Alaqua Animal Refuge, Sinfonia Gulf Coast and the Ingram Lee Foundation. In the past, other recipients of funding from the foundation have included the Children’s Volunteer Health Network and Seaside Neighborhood School.

“I’m a very big believer in supporting charities and raising money for the area that I live in,” Brannon said. “So, I’m a big proponent of bringing people together over good food and good wine, and giving back and making sure those dollars go back into our community.”

Setco served as a sponsor for the recent weekend festivities, and Brannon has seen the work the event benefits first-hand.

“Tiffanie [Nelson, founder, Food For Thought Outreach] has a great story about a young kid who was walking to their Full Circle Kitchen, barefoot,” Brannon said. “He got involved in cooking and then he was helping in Emeril’s Coastal. That’s an opportunity that young man may never have had.

“I’ve seen the benefit first-hand and it’s amazing.”

To get involved, both Kish and Brannon recommended visiting the website or speaking to someone locally who is already active with the foundation.

“I’ll take someone to lunch personally if they truly want to get involved,” Brannon said.

For both men, it’s all about the bottom line.

“Everything we do is centered on great food, fine wine and philanthropy,” Kish said. “Food brings people together and gets the fun going, but it’s about what we do when we gather together and that’s to raise money for the youth that we serve.”

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