Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Rockville mom gets lessons from Emeril Lagasse

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Charles E. Shoemaker/The Gazette
The Rowedder family enjoys angel hair pasta with smoked mozzarella and asparagus, one of the dishes Rockville resident Cecilia Rowedder learned to cook from Chef Emeril Lagasse. Pictured (clockwise from Cecilia at left) are Paul, 15, Mary, 8, Francis, 11, dad Tony, Andrew, 17, Tricia, 13, and Clare, 1.

With a few simple cooking tricks and a lot of laughs, a Rockville family recently got some tips on how to spice up its suppers from famous chef Emeril Lagasse.

"He really helped me cook for my family," said Cecilia Rowedder, a resident of the Flower Valley community, "and taught me not to be afraid of vegetables and ingredients I'd never cooked with before."

Rowedder will appear alongside Lagasse, the host of several Food Network shows and food correspondent for ABC's "Good Morning America," on an episode of his new show, "Emeril Green."

On the series, which debuted July 14 on Discovery Communications' Planet Green channel, Lagasse takes cooking-challenged people to Whole Foods markets to help them learn about and hand-pick the best organic and locally grown foods. After shopping with each person, Lagasse helps them prepare dishes that demonstrate the "convenience and ease of using fresh ingredients in everyday meals," according to a Discovery Communications press release.

Rowedder said her sister e-mailed her about a casting call for the show in the Washington, D.C., area. A self-described "huge fan" of Lagasse and his shows, she quickly applied, telling producers that preparing side dishes with her meals is her cooking challenge.

"I thought I was applying to be an audience participant," the 45-year-old mother of six said, adding she thought the show would be like Lagasse's show "Emeril Live!" which has a live studio audience. "So I was surprised to be chosen."

Andrew Scafetta, a spokesman for Discovery Communications, wrote in an e-mail message to The Gazette that Rowedder was chosen for the show because she has a large family to feed, and while she felt comfortable creating main dishes, she felt a "lack of creativity" when it came to her vegetable side dishes.

Rowedder wanted to "go beyond the salt and pepper and steam options" she was used to and Lagasse was just the man for the challenge, Scafetta said.

On July 12, the show's crew came to Rowedder's house to get to know her family and see what she typically cooks.

"I make a main dish, but don't know what to serve with it," she said. "Like, which vegetables go with what."

A little over a week later, Rowedder went to cook with the "BAM" master himself at a Whole Foods Market in Fairfax, Va.

"I was definitely nervous," she said. "But he was super friendly and gave me a big hug and met my husband and kids."

Lagasse led Rowedder around the store, pointing out ingredients she had never used, such as Brussels sprouts, eggplants, white beans and different colored tomatoes.

After shopping with Lagasse and a store manager, she was led over to a kitchen that had been set up for the show.

"It was really cool," Rowedder said. "We cooked 10 different sides together."

She added she appreciated the way Lagasse interacted with her as they spiced, cut and stirred.

"It wasn't master to little student," Rowedder said. "He really treated me like an equal."

The stay-at-home mom was also pleased to learn how quickly the dishes could be prepared.

"He really taught me to step out of my comfort zone and pick up ingredients I hadn't used before," Rowedder said. "And everything we did took less than 10 minutes to cook. It was fantastic."

Now, she said, she is whipping up side dishes such as cauliflower with lemon, salt and pepper like a pro or spicing up a pot of pasta with fresh vegetables.

Scafetta said Planet Green does not have a firm air date for Rowedder's episode. But when it does air, Rowedder said she and her family plan to celebrate its premiere with a party at their house.

"It was a great experience and I loved it," she said. "I told my husband I'm a changed woman and he agrees."