I Know Why Emeril Says "Bam"!
Last night a very reliable source told me where and how Emeril Lagasse came up with his famous "Bam!" line. He knows because he was there. But we'll get to that part of the story later...
Last night, Win and I went to a cooking class at Heaven on Seven. Heaven on Seven is an excellent cajun and creole restaurant here in Chicago, with three downtown locations and one in Naperville, IL. We have eaten at Heaven on Seven several times and loved the food and drinks every time. The food is rich and spicy...but without being overwhelmingly so...and an authentic taste of the South. On my last visit to Heaven, I saw an advertisement for cooking classes run by the chef/owner Jimmy Bannos. Father's Day was right around the corner, and this type of food ranks high on Win's list of favorites, so a trip to the cooking class seemed like a perfect gift. Our trusty Lima Bean (with some help from me) got her Dad (and me) registered for the first available class. They only do these classes once a month, hence the time lapse between Father's Day and when we actually went.
The cooking class is held in the 111 N. Wabash location. It's the original Heaven on Seven, on the 7th floor of the Garland Building. The photo above shows just part of Heaven's "Wall of Fire," a collection of hot sauces gathered from around the world. The minute we walked in the door we were greeted warmly by Cleetus, Heaven's Director of Catering and Special Events, and handed 2 hurricanes. What a way to start a class! The hurricanes were delicious and I had to repeatedly remind myself to take it slow since they're one of those drinks that are so tasty you can easily drink them down before realizing how much alcohol you've had. They had set up a cooking station and portable stove in the middle of the restaurant and surrounded it with tables and chairs for the students. Each student was greeted with strands of mardi gras beads at their place plus complete recipes and instructions for cooking each dish.
Born and raised in the restaurant business, Jimmy Bannos is a character and this was unlike the usual cooking classes I go to. Right off the bat, Jimmy said that he's not interested in teaching us specifics like "you need a quarter teaspoon of this or that." All of that information is contained on the recipes he had already provided. He was more interested in sharing general techniques and imparting common sense understanding of how cajun and creole food works and the basics for making some favorites from this genre. So this wasn't a class where we learned how to chop or where we saw the chef measure out every single ingredient. Jimmy already had most of his ingredients measured out and waiting for him when we got there. Instead, it was more of a conversation---and a very fun one at that---about this type of food and how to approach it.
The menu for the evening included:
*Andouille Sausage with Creole Mustard as an amuse bouche
*Creole Caesar Salad with Creole Caesar Dressing
*Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
*Habanero Chicken Jerktouffee
*Blueberry Corn Blasters
The andouille sausage amuse bouche was outrageously good and helped to fill our stomachs a bit and soak up some of those hurricanes. Heaven on Seven sells sausages and other meats that they use in their cooking, which I didn't know until last night. So if you find yourself needing tasso ham or andouille sausage, maybe think about getting it at Heaven. The creole caesar salad was essentially your basic caesar salad, seriously revved up by creole croutons and a dressing using creole mustard and Jimmy's Angel Dust Cajun Seasoning. Very good and a nice break in what would be a rich menu. Speaking of rich, the chicken and sausage gumbo was to die for. Thick and creamy, it was my favorite part of the menu last night. When Jimmy asked if anyone wanted more, Win and I actually split another cup; it was that good. The orzolaya is Jimmy's version of jambalaya but made with orzo pasta. Yum, yum, yum. The habanero chicken jerktouffee is like etouffee, made with jerk seasonings. Jimmy served it over corn bread. It was so good, but by this time I was seriously filling up. For dessert, we each got some blueberry corn blasters, which are tiny pieces of blueberry cornbread, deep fried and then coated with powdered sugar. They were just the right level of sweet and a nice way to cap off our meal.
All of the dishes we tasted came in full size or close to full size portions. So this wasn't one of those cooking classes where you watch the chef cook for 2 hours and then get a little nibble of the final creations. We chowed down heartily on every course and Jimmy and his team kept the hurricanes coming all night. His assistant, called "Billy Boy" by Jimmy, was outstanding and he made sure that all guests' needs were met immediately.
Watching Jimmy cook and tell his stories was almost more like dinner theater than a formal cooking class, but we did learn how to cook the dishes too. He uses a common sense approach to cooking and his passion for what he does is evident. He told us he still cooks at all his restaurants and just shows up at the various locations unannounced to check in every week. I know we saw him on the lunch shift at the Rush Street location in June.
At the end of the class, Jimmy let us ask any questions we wanted and it turned into a really spirited food discussion. Jimmy shared his favorite restaurants in and around Chicago (too many to possibly list), shared anecdotes about his chef friends (Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Charlie Trotter included), and filled us in about life as a chef and entrepreneur in the food industry.
Probably my favorite story from the night was about how Emeril started using his "Bam!" tagline. Back in the early days of the Food Network, Emeril was taping a show and one of the cameramen kept falling asleep during takes. He'd shoot a scene, then the director would say "cut," and the cameraman would fall asleep. When they said "action," he'd wake up again. This was apparently driving Emeril and others crazy, and so they joked that he needed to do something to keep this guy awake. So he yelled "Bam!" to keep him awake and alert. And that's how the catchphrase was born. Emeril was smart enough to take it and run with it as his thing. Jimmy was there; he knows.
We absolutely loved this cooking class and highly recommend it for a unique night out. It's just the right balance of instruction, fun, and delicious food. The cost is $75.00 per person, and this includes all the courses described above and all the beer, wine or hurricanes you want. We felt this was extremely reasonable, given the food we had and the terrific cooking instruction and entertainment.
Heaven on Seven