Chef Emeril Lagasse received his first culinary experience from his mother, Hilda, when he was a boy growing up in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts. As a teenager, he worked at a Portuguese bakery where he mastered the art of bread and pastry baking. Upon high school graduation, Lagasse was offered a full scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music, but decided to pursue a career as a professional chef.
Chef Bernard Carmouche began his culinary career by default. He was a high school student looking for a job so he could fulfill the dream of buying a car. Instead he found a career that’s been more like a calling. In 1984, Carmouche applied for a job at Commander’s Palace under the direction of then executive chef Emeril Lagasse. Shortly after he began, Lagasse recognized his dedication and began to teach him how to cook. Carmouche remained at Commander’s Palace for eight years. When the Brennan’s opened Palace Café he was made sous chef and held that position for two years until he was persuaded by Chef Emeril Lagasse to become a part of the team at Emeril’s Restaurant. During Carmouche’s six year tenure at Emeril’s he rose to the position of Chef de Cuisine and served an internship under internationally acclaimed French chef Roger Verge at his Moulin de Mougin restaurant. Upon the opening of Emeril’s Orlando in 1999 he assumed the position of Chef de Cuisine. In 2003, he was promoted to Assistant Director of Culinary Operations for Emeril’s Homebase, the company’s headquarters. Now as Culinary Director, he oversees the kitchen teams and all culinary operations of the company’s two Florida restaurants including Emeril’s Orlando at Universal's CityWalk® and Emeril’s Tchoup Chop at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort® at Universal Orlando Resort®.
Chef de Cuisine
Armed with more than 20 years of experience in the culinary arts, Ryan Vargas took the helm at Emeril's Tchoup Chop at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando as chef de cuisine in October 2013. Vargas, a Hawaii native, joined Emeril's Tchoup Chop after spending about 13 years leading the kitchens at some of the island's top resorts, including the Four Seasons Resort in Hualalai and the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua Maui. Before moving to Orlando, Vargas also led the kitchen at the Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where in 2011 he was voted as "Palm Beach County Best Chef" by the Palm Beach Post.
Growing up on the island of O'ahu in Hawaii, Vargas looked up to his father, who was the Master Chief Chef for the U.S. Navy, and inherited his love of great cuisine. "He would take me to the mess hall, and I recall being excited and amazed with the sights, sounds and smells," Vargas remembers. "I knew at the age of 5 that I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps."
Complementing Executive Chef Emeril Lagasse's bold and fresh flavors, Vargas describes his style of cooking as "fun and whimsical, classics-with-a-twist, and not complicated but refined." His techniques and styles reflect the melting pot of island life, mixing different Asian cuisines with Pacific Island influences.
Classically trained, Vargas graduated from the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, N.Y. in 1991 with an associate's degree in Culinary Arts. He lives in Orlando with his wife, Rhonda, and their three children, Lakea, Lilinoe and Rocco.
A native Floridian, Lee Kaleel has spent his entire professional career dreaming of running a restaurant. He began this quest in 1995 at the place where dreams come true – the California Grill at the Walt Disney World Resort®. As part of California Grill’s opening team, Lee spent his first eight years developing his passion for superior guest service, delicious food and exquisite wine.
In 2003, Kaleel joined Darden Restaurants to help design and launch Seasons 52. He assisted with the development of the concept until March 2008 when he helped open the independent gastro pub, Ravenous Pig.
In October 2011, Lee was recruited by Emeril Lagasse to lead the operations of his Asian-Polynesian restaurant Emeril’s Tchoup Chop (located at the Loews Royal Pacific® at Universal Studios Orlando®) as general manager.