Whitney National Bank in New Orleans is jazzing up its marketing with the help of its most famous customer: celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

The critically acclaimed cook is the new spokesman for the $6.1 billion-asset bank and has started promoting a number of its products with variations on his catch phrase: "Let's kick it up a notch."

The partnership continues a relationship that began in 1990 when Whitney gave a loan to the chef to set up his first restaurant, Emeril's, in New Orleans after other banks had rejected him.

"When I wanted to open my first restaurant, Whitney took me seriously. They worked with me," Mr. Lagasse said in a press release. "I'll never forget that."

Whitney chose Mr. Lagasse to be its spokesman because his expressed commitment to quality service is similar to that of the bank, said Susan Koch, senior vice president and director of retail banking and marketing.

"We sat in on one of his staff meetings, and a lot of what he was doing we have carried into our business - product knowledge, setting goals for sales each evening, going down the list of guests and deciding who needs extra attention," she said.

Ms. Koch said that the bank was also looking for a new campaign that would appeal to customers in the markets it recently entered outside Louisiana, though preserving the bank's New Orleans flavor, and Mr. Lagasse was the perfect match. The campaign is a major departure from Whitney's past marketing efforts, which she described as "traditional and conservative."

Though Mr. Lagasse owns and operates six restaurants, stars on two cooking programs, and makes weekly appearances on "Good Morning, America," Ms. Koch said he was very willing to make the time to work with Whitney. She would not disclose what Whitney is paying Mr. Lagasse under their two-year contract but said he accepted "far less," because of their relationship, than he ordinarily commands for advertising work.

"This is an unusual deal for him," she said. "Most of the other stuff he does is national, but because of his unique relationship with us, he really wanted to do this."

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