Spend any time at the Venetian and Palazzo this time of year and you can’t help but notice large groups dining in just about every restaurant, clusters of conventioneers taking places over. But last month, a very different group got together at Emeril Lagasse’s Table 10 at Palazzo.
A few dozen students, instructors and administrators from the Des Moines-based Iowa Culinary Institute, including visiting chefs from its long-running French Chef Exchange Program, were visiting Vegas and being treated to an amazing multi-course dinner from one of their own—chef de cuisine James Richards.
The annual trip alternates between Las Vegas and Chicago, allowing the student chefs to dine in fantastic restaurants and also to get a look behind the scenes of the hospitality industry, says ICI’s Maura Nelson. On this trip, the group stayed at MGM Grand and took a full-scale back-of-house tour of the megaresort. “It’s especially interesting for our visiting French chefs because they don’t have an opportunity to see anything like this,” Nelson says. “It’s a chance for them to see America is not just about hamburgers.”
Certainly the Table 10 dinner was a highlight of the trip. Richards, who got his start washing dishes at a pizzeria before graduating from ICI in 2010, has hosted his alma mater once before, when he was sous chef at Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House. His fiancée Lindsey Hill, whom he met while in culinary school in Iowa, is a pastry chef at Delmonico Steakhouse at Venetian.
Richards composed a menu that would “pull out all the stops but also do what we do here at Table 10, which is focus on seasonal ingredients.” The meal began with a twist on tuna Niçoise, with raw tiles of fish checkerboarded against garlic confit potatoes. His seafood chowder was a showstopper, a green leek broth swimming with Spanish octopus, mussels, lobster, crispy bacon lardons and briny sea beans. He also served braised rabbit with roasted golden beets and Creole mustard jus and a very festive roasted venison with red currants, black pepper demi-glace, shaved truffles and toasted hazelnuts. The finale was classic red velvet cake with pistachio ice cream.
The group raved about Richards’ cooking, especially the visiting French chefs, part of 32-year-long program that also sends ICI students like Richards to Paris to work and learn. “They are my family,” Richards says.