photo courtesy Delmonico 

Ronnie Rainwater is set to celebrate his 19th year with Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant group, most of which have been spent at Delmonico Steakhouse within The Venetian, where he started a month after the hotel and restaurant opened in 1999. Growing up with his grandmother’s southern cooking, Rainwater followed food to culinary school and is still riding the wave of passion as chef de cuisine at Delmonico.

You’ve been here 19 years; it seems like most chefs bounce around a lot…

Yea, in the culinary world you don’t stick in one spot for many years, but we actually have a lot of employees that have been with the group longer than I have. 

So what’s kept you here? 

Just always being able to move forward, opportunities within the group. I had the opportunity to move to Atlanta in 2003 to open Emeril’s Atlanta, then the opportunity to move back. There’s always been growth, even though it’s been in the same group. There’s always been that opportunity to grow. 

What’s it like working under Emeril? Is he as animated as we see?

It’s awesome. He’s very charismatic, very passionate about the restaurants, the business, food and taking care of people. It’s a good driving force for us and it’s easy to follow that and mimic that the best you can. 

You mentioned your grandmother’s southern influence. What else have you picked up along the way? 

It started there and honestly when I made the move to Vegas and further back made the move to go to culinary school, is when the Food Network wave started. You’d see chefs like Emeril on television and seeing that side of it. Then going to culinary school, the momentum kept going. My passion continued, whereas a lot of people once they get to the professional side and it’s not a hobby, it’s maybe not for them. I feel like I’m still riding the wave a little bit. Seeing Vegas when I first moved here to Vegas now, it’s like wow. The change is unbelievable. 

There are a lot of steakhouses on the Strip, and Delmonico is 19 years old. How do you keep relevant?

Our backbone, what we opened with, was USDA Prime, in-house aged, hand-cut steaks. Going back to when we first opened, Emeril’s probably was one of the first celebrity chefs to have that steakhouse, so in a way it was pioneering the celebrity chef steakhouse. To this day we still do the same thing. As time has evolved and food has evolved, we’ve broadened our steak options, whether it’s over the top 100 percent Japanese Wagyu to adding an Italian Piedmontese beef. Seasonality, we’ve always had that philosophy. Sourcing local, which is more relevant in Vegas than it used to be. We always try to look for what’s fresh, what’s new, but sticking to what got us here. 

You really like simplicity, which seems a bit understated… 

Especially in this town, where everything is big and grand. I just tend to…maybe because I’m not very smart, I don’t know…but I tend to think if you’re sourcing great ingredients, you don’t have to do too much. Treat them right, handle them right, cook them properly. It’s amazing what salt and pepper can do, and proper technique. I am just a simple person, simple technique; sometimes people want to do the big grand thing, and that’s OK too. 

What’s your go-to item on the menu?

I’m a ribeye guy. Our ribeye is one of the best in town for sure. That’s where we started. It’s something we have to manage, it’s not just throw into the fridge and here it is. We take a lot of time and care to showcase the dry-aged beef. 

Where do you drink and eat?

I love cooking at home. It’s relaxing to me to be able to have a glass of wine while I’m cooking. I don’t get to do that cooking here. I have children, so that time is what’s important to me. When I do go out, I try to appreciate the time. Most recently I was at Bazaar Meat, had a great meal. I like simple things, sometimes as simple as getting a burger at In-N-Out with my kids and just watching football.