EXCLUSIVE: Chef Emeril Lagasse films show at 'Ava' in South Tampa

What drew him to the South Tampa restaurant
Posted at 11:46 PM, Nov 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-14 07:47:14-05

He's arguably one of the most well known chefs in the world. He's even launching a new show on Amazon Prime called "Eating Around the World with Emeril Lagasse."

A native of Lousiana, Lagasse also has a very special connection to Florida and now the Bay area.

"It's all about Florida from Key West to the Panhandle" said Lagasse.

One restaurant intrigued Lagasse so much he wanted to feature "Ava" on South Howard Avenue.

It thrusts this largely family owned Italian eatery into the limelight. Owner Michael Stewart said he literally just had days notice.

"I do not know how I was selected. I'm not going to lie to you. I have no idea! They said Emeril's is coming!
So, I'm like let's go let's move the chairs, let's move the table whatever he wants," said Stewart.

Some might think Ava's famous partner might have something to do it with it.

He is only the first Chicago Cubs manger to win a World Series in 108 years.

"I had no idea that his partner was Joe Maddon who won the World Series with the Chicago Cubs. I mean
Game 7 was insane!" said Lagasse.

"Which makes us feel great you know. We want to stand on our food alone. And the fact that Joe Maddon is involved is a bonus, especially this year," said Stewart laughing.

Stewart proudly serve authentic Italian dishes and while Emeril loved digging in it's the pizza that piqued the chef's interest-especially the imported custom oven used to bake them.

"I mean who is going to Napoli to by a Pizza oven" exclaimed Lagasse.

"He was kind of infatuated it like we are," said Stewart.

Stewart said the Italian company makes about 50 a year. In total he paid a whopping $75,000. Compare that to the average commercial oven that runs around $4000.

Stewart never expected his oven would pay off like this, with Lagasse in his kitchen.

"It's huge because you think of the most famous chefs in the world, that's him! So for him to come here we're very grateful," said Stewart.

The exposure is not only good for Ava but for the Bay area. Lagassee is a native New Orleanian but he is also a Floridian. He bought a  home in North Florida.

"It is a big deal. And it's a big deal because of what is happening in Florida. It's not just about restaurants, it's about farmers, fisherman it's about agriculture. And it's not all fancy places. It's a local fish shack. It's a barbecue joint. It's where people have a lot a passion And have gotten no recognition at all And it's happening here."

Stewart said Lagasse's passion translates into a win-win for Tampa. Stewart a native and owner of several restaurants, says he's watched the industry evolve.

"He could do a restaurant segment anywhere in the world But he came to Tampa. I gives credibility to all the hard work and passion," said Lagasse.

And everyone benefits, a more successful business means more dollars and food available to local charities.

"We are very passionate about giving back to the community and the more we succeed the more we can give," said Stewart. "I am from here and that is very important to me."

And it is to Lagasse as well. Whatever he can do better a community he will.

"I always say to myself  Emeril how am I going to get better tomorrow, not for me for everyone," said Lagassee.

My relationship with Lagassee goes back to my days as an anchor in New Orleans. If you want to hear the more personal side, just head to my Facebook page.