HERNANDO BEACH — It's not every day that a celebrity super chef walks through the doors of your dining establishment, sits down and orders something to eat that you lovingly create. But on Tuesday, that's exactly what happened when Brian's Place chef and owner Brian Alvarez looked out through the kitchen door.
Yep, there he was, Emeril Lagasse — Mr. "Kick It Up a Notch," the King of "Bam!" — in the dining room with friends, ordering a tasty lunch of mojo chicken salad with gorgonzola cheese.
What Alvarez and just about everyone else in Hernando Beach didn't know at the time was that Lagasse was on a short break from taping an episode for his cable TV series, Emeril's Florida, at R Beach, just a few hundred yards away on Shoal Line Boulevard.
After his meal, Alvarez met with Lagasse, and he posed for pictures with the staff. Alvarez said the celebrity chef told him that he wanted to visit some other restaurants while he was in the area, and chose Brian's Place on the recommendation of the TV show's producers, who had checked out the bistro earlier.
"I thought that was pretty cool," Alvarez recalled Wednesday. "Not something I ever expected. He was very nice, very complimentary of my restaurant."
According to R Beach owner Fred Javidi, the Emeril's Florida taping had been kept quiet for more than a month because of contractual obligations with the Cooking Channel. He couldn't even tell his closest friends about it.
"Anyone who knows me knows how hard that was for me to keep quiet," Javidi said with a laugh. "But it's going to be worth it. It's going to get our name out there."
Javidi said that a TV crew of approximately 30 arrived about 7 a.m. Wednesday and began setting up equipment. Lagasse showed up about 9 a.m. and spent a couple of hours on site, sampling about a half-dozen dishes from the R Beach menu and observing restaurant chef Nathan Collen at work in the kitchen.
"He was very easygoing and seemed to have fun doing the show," Javiti said. "And we loved having him here."
The show, which premiered in January, highlights Lagasse, a part-time Florida resident, as he examines the cuisine and scenery around well-known and not-so-well-known Sunshine State eateries, including Cafe Ponte in Clearwater, the Hurricane and the Loews Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach and the Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach.
According to Cooking Channel publicist Danielle McLaughlin, this week's taping was part of a series of shows that will air later this fall and early in 2014.
Emeril's Florida airs at 9:30 a.m. Thursdays on the Food Network.
Javidi said he hopes his restaurant won't be the only Hernando Beach establishment to benefit from the publicity.
"We have some great places out here that deserve to be visited," he said. "This could be good for all of us."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.