BETHLEHEM, Pa. (WABC) --Emeril Lagasse wants to make you smarter.
The celebrity chef recently opened his 12th restaurant, Emeril's Fish House at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Bethlehem, Pa. It's his third restaurant at the Sands, replacing his Italian Table. With so many Italian dining options already in the area, Lagasse wanted to bring a concept that worked in Las Vegas for 22 years to the Lehigh Valley.
"A real, real experience about great seafood, great shellfish that just tastes amazing," he said.
The cozy, casual spot is just steps off the casino floor and features an assortment of seafood, steaks and chops with a Creole flair, but the emphasis is on fish - from the raw bar to the lobster tails.
Fishermen from Florida, Philadelphia and New York are delivering that fresh fish every few days to the restaurant.
"It's all about freshness. For me, growing up in Massachusetts, living on the water, fishing as a little boy - I happen to be a serious fisherman today - I'm connected to the sea. I'm trying to teach people and mentor people more about the respect for not only the fish, but for the ocean. That we have to take care of it," Lagasse said. "It's not a garbage can."
Lagasse says he thinks about the ocean environment all the time, and he is trying to educate his team and in turn, his customers.
"It really disgusts me when I'm on my boat and I'm in the Gulf of Mexico and I see some log or I see some container that's swimming by. People think it's just a garbage can. It so frustrates me and irritates me. How are our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren - what are they going to have if we don't care about that stuff?"
Lagasse paid a visit to his newest restaurant on Saturday, but he was also in town for the kickoff of the Lehigh Valley Food and Wine Festival and to award 3 aspiring culinary students at Northampton Community College with an opportunity to work in his three New Orleans restaurants for a week.
He says the restaurant industry is having a difficult time finding the right talent these days because "everybody wants a show on the Food Network," but they don't want to earn their stripes.
"Here I am all these years later, and I'm learning. I'm still learning every day. I feel cheated if I'm not learning, and I tell people that," Lagasse said. "I tell my cooks that. If you are not learning something, if you are not learning one thing every day, you are cheating yourself because there's just so much to know, so much to learn out there."
Lagasse's lifelong journey has taken him from working in a Portuguese bakery in Massachusetts where he washed pots and pans to fame and fortune with restaurants, TV shows (including 18 years on GMA) and books, but it's not a life that he ever imagined.
"I just wanted to have one successful restaurant and be a successful chef, and feed people and make them happy. And hopefully, make a living, have a family and be a family guy," he said.
It's not easy, Lagasse says. He tells himself every day if it was easy, everybody would be doing it,
Lagasse's business is still growing. Already employing a team of 1,200 people, later this year he will open his first new restaurant in New Orleans since 1998. "Meril" is named after his youngest daughter, and the menu will feature in part food that they like to eat together.
Finding that balance between business and family is something Lagasse thinks about, saying it's a real juggling act. On the eve of hosting the media event at Emeril's Fish House, his brother had open heart surgery and one of his daughters had a baby.
"I'm blessed that I have a great team and I have a great family that supports me," said Lagasse. "That's very important for things to work. If you didn't have that, it makes things a lot more difficult."
To learn more about Emeril's Fish House, please visit pasands.com.