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Any general counsel who has endured bad lunches in the corporate cafeteria will envy James McGrew. The 43-year-old is the top in-house lawyer at Emeril’s Homebase, which oversees celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s nine restaurants, including spots in New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Orlando, and a host of Emeril-branded products. A lifelong fan of good food but a self-confessed amateur in the kitchen, McGrew came to the restaurant industry by chance. He spent 14 years as a labor and employment lawyer at New Orleans — based firms Jones, Walker, Waechter, Poitevent, Carrère & Denègre and McCalla, Thompson, Pyburn, Hymowitz & Shapiro. By 2000, Lagasse, a longtime McCalla Thompson client, had expanded his culinary empire from three to six restaurants and was looking for an in-house lawyer. A fellow McCalla partner put McGrew in touch with the famously animated chef, and “Bam!” McGrew got the job. He oversees a two-person legal team and a human resources department of six. What kind of legal work do you do at Emeril’s? My primary focus is on the human resources aspects of the company, and in that area there is a lot of day-to-day advice. [I also] do a lot of management training and designing of our benefit systems. On the restaurant side, I get involved in transactional matters. If, for example, there’s a large event at one of our restaurants where there’s going to be a contract or when there is a contractual relationship with our vendors, I will get involved in all that. Does working in the restaurant industry influence your daily schedule? It varies depending on whether I’m in town or out. When I’m in New Orleans, my day is more like [that in] a typical law office. When I’m traveling, I spend time in the restaurants doing [human resources -- related] training [involving] more nighttime hours, which is a lot of fun. How often do you get to eat at one of Emeril’s restaurants? Fairly frequently. We have three restaurants in New Orleans, and I travel to one of our other markets at least once or twice a month. I really enjoy being in the restaurants — it’s impressive, the service techniques that they use, the cooking, and the art of cooking. I really get a kick out of watching how they do things and then getting to sample it. Did you have an interest in food before joining Emeril’s Homebase? I have to be honest that I cannot cook very well, but I can eat very well [laughs]. I have always been interested in food and restaurants. I’m just amazed at the craft and what these artists can do with food. Does Emeril ever give you cooking lessons? I can’t think of any formal lessons, but I’ve picked up tips here and there. I often ask the chefs for a tip on how to do something. I love to barbecue, and so I’m always trying to come up with new ideas about what I should barbecue or how to prepare it. But with my busy schedule, I have to say I am not a very frequent or good cook. Do you have a favorite Emeril dish? I love the banana crème pie. And I am a gumbo fanatic. In terms of the entrées, I like so many different types of food that it’s hard to choose a favorite. Does Emeril use the expression “Bam!” off camera? Oh, sure. Emeril is full of life and energy, and his enthusiasm gets everyone so excited. It’s a thrill to be around him.

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