While handing out small plates of grilled cobia at Rum Point Beach during the Cayman Cookout, Emeril Lagasse has a familiar face behind him. His son, E.J., is helping prep the next batch of fish, garnishing each fillet with scallions, cucumber and uni hoisin sauce.
This is the father-son duo’s third year working together at the annual festival, a week-long line-up of food and beverage events on the Cayman Islands. Despite the no shoes, no shirt, no problem-atmosphere of it all, Emeril is understandably exhausted — he’s been working until 10 p.m. nearly every night prepping food for the next day. It’s not until the chef, and proud father of four, is talking about how E.J. is taking after him in the kitchen that he’s noticeably reenergized.
“It’s awesome having him here,” Emeril, 60, tells PEOPLE. “He’s super into it. I never asked him to do it, it’s just something that he just does.”
Knowing the long hours and hard work that goes into being a restaurant chef, Emeril tried talking him out of it at first, “but it’s what he wants to do,” he says.
The 16-year-old works alongside his dad at Emeril’s Coastal Italian restaurant in Miramar Beach, Fla. “He’s also a great traveling buddy,” adds Emeril. “We were just in London together two weeks ago, spending a week just eating and researching.”
After his first year working the Cayman Cookout, run primarily out of the beachfront Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, the event’s host Eric Ripert invited him to work at his Michelin three-star restaurant, Le Bernardin. “He’s worked with Daniel [Boulud] for a month, too,” boasts Emeril. In August he’ll attend Johnson & Wales University for culinary school, his dad’s alma mater.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” E.J. tells PEOPLE of school, “and to never stop learning, continuing to push forward, and trying to help bring in the new generation of cooks.”
Though Emeril helped launch the Food Network in the 1990s, E.J. is not as interested in being in front of the camera. “I’ve been on his shows and stuff a few times. It doesn’t bother me,” he says. “But I definitely want to be a chef that’s known for my cuisine and not necessarily just because you see me on TV every week.”
A restaurant kitchen can be a heated place, with or without your dad looking over your shoulder. So does Emeril dish out some tough love behind the stove? If he does, E.J. is used to it.
“I’ve worked with him in kitchens since, I mean, since I could walk,” he says. “So that’s always kind of been a thing. But it’s great. We have a great personal relationship inside and outside the kitchen. But he is not afraid to tell me how it is, for sure.”