You came back to Las Vegas as executive chef at Table 10 two years ago after a stint at Emeril’s in Miami Beach. Is it a good fit? It’s nice to come into an environment that’s familiar, that’s for sure. This resort is one of the best in the world. I don’t think you’re ever going to find as many great restaurants under one roof as there are at Venetian and Palazzo. It’s amazing, really. And to me, Table 10 is the most exciting restaurant in (Emeril Lagasse’s) company. Chef Sean Roe was here before me and he twisted it into a place that really appealed to me. There have been challenges but we enjoy it every day.
It seems like Emeril gives his chefs a little more room to tweak his restaurants in their own way. I can’t disagree with that. He gives us a lot of latitude to be ourselves and use what’s available, and he understands that any restaurant has to be what guests need it to be rather than what somebody has envisioned.
What elements at Table 10 display your cooking style or influence? I’m a Midwestern kid, so I’m used to things smelling different and looking different and tasting different at different times of the year. I see myself as a seasonal cook and I think that is reflected in many of our plates. We always have a stuffed pasta of some sort. In spring it’s going to be peas and in the fall it will be squash, for example. We’re bound by the seasons whether we want to be or not, and it makes sense because it’s good for the guest.
You’re originally from Kansas City. Do you see parallels with your hometown and Las Vegas in terms of them being food cities? Everybody thinks of Kansas City for barbecue and most people there are fine with that. There are, I think, five James Beard Award-winning chefs in Kansas City now, and five years ago I don’t think anyone would consider it as being a place with that kind of talent. Here, there are some similarities in the food but this is such a unique market and so magnified and over the top that those similarities get lost in the mix pretty quickly. Things are done here on a scale they’re not done in very many places, even New York or LA. How many 400-seat restaurants are within a three-mile walk of us right now? A lot, maybe a dozen. In LA there are maybe 20 restaurants that size in the whole city of 20 million people. The scale of Las Vegas trumps any similarities you can draw between places.
What about off the Strip? Do you explore that side of Vegas? Oh, for sure. I’m a Downtowny kind of guy. I’ve always liked that stuff since I first got here, years ago working for Wolfgang Puck. A friend introduced me to Downtown Cocktail Room back then, and now you can’t find a parking spot anywhere near there. I love Le Thai. My wife and I go to Casa di Amore, a classic place. I enjoy fine dining as much as someone can but I also like being comfortable and seeing the beauty in simple food.
Do you cook at home? Always. My wife is a great cook, too. She’s not a chef but she can cook better than a lot of chefs I could name. She was vegetarian for a long time and that taught her to be a great cook, to get a lot of flavor and satisfaction out of certain ingredients. She just made vegetarian enchiladas the other night, with mole, delicious. We grill a lot, carne asada and things like that. I love to cook things that take a long time. We make a lot of pasta at home, and I’ll start on the sauce in the morning or early afternoon and have to steer myself away from it all day until dinnertime. I’m not at home making foie gras terrine or anything like that.
At Table 10, you just re-launched your four-course, $45 tasting menu. Yeah, we did it this summer and it was a huge success. People loved it, we loved it and we realized it was a great thing and that maybe we should do it all the time. It will sort of rotate with the seasons and always be a little different, but there will be a couple options always available, too. It’s nice because it’s a full menu that you won’t need a wheelchair to get home or have to crack open the piggybank to come enjoy it. There are four or five choices per course, but they’re abbreviated, maybe 70 percent the size of the regular dish but the exact same quality and ingredients. So far people have really been enjoying it, and it’s exciting because we built some value into the experience without having to redecorate and call it Emeril’s Burger Place or something. It’s a great thing we’re really proud of.