Chef James Richards of Emeril’s Table 10
When it comes to cooking, creativity and giving guests an affordable fine-dining experience on the Strip is Chef Richards’ ultimate goal. Chef de cuisine of Emeril’s Table 10 at The Palazzo and an Iowa native, Chef Richards discusses his early start in the industry and how he puts a little bit of home in every dish.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I was born and raised in Iowa; I grew up right outside of Des Moines in a small town called Ankeny. My great aunt was 100% Greek and she always had me in the kitchen with her since I was four or five. I remember sitting on the counter learning how to make pie dough and other dishes with her so my interest in the culinary field started early and she was a big influence. My mom influenced me as well. Every single night she made sure we had a home-cooked meal on the table. One of my first jobs was de-tasseling corn out in corn fields, and I also was a dishwasher at a local pizza spot, so I’ve been working in the industry since I could.
How did being raised in Iowa influence your current cooking style?
It influences me greatly. I’m a huge meat and potatoes kid; that’s what I was born and raised on. It has also given me a drive to get out of that realm and see what else is out there, since growing up in Iowa I didn’t get a lot of fresh fish and was limited on things like that. Also drawing from that classic, home-style influence you want to feed people soul, but you also want to give them something they can’t experience anywhere else. So it influenced me to invoke that homey and nourishing feeling with the food but also give guests the “wow” factor of something that is unique.
What was your experience at culinary school like?
I started going to culinary school during high school, where there was a program set up with the Iowa Culinary Institute to where I could spend half my day at high school and half at culinary school. I did that junior and senior year, and graduated at 19 and was selected for an internship to go live in France for one month. I lived with a French chef and worked at his restaurant. I got to experience some different ways of doing things, like storing food in underground cellars, fresh farmers markets and catching frogs by hand to make fresh frog legs. It was a good experience and gave me a world-view of food and a whole different perspective on what food can be to people.
What were some of your early culinary experiences like?
I came back to Iowa and realized I couldn’t really do what I wanted to in Iowa. The food scene wasn’t very up-and-coming and I wanted to go where I could really test my skills. I asked one of my instructors at culinary school if she knew anywhere I could work outside of Iowa and she suggested Las Vegas or Chicago. I decided to try Las Vegas, and came here in 2010. I started as a line cook at Delmonico Steakhouse for two and a half years and worked my way up. Then I was offered a job as a sous-chef at Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at MGM and was there for three years. I then went off the Strip to help open a restaurant for the Elizabeth Blau Group and was with them for about one year when I got the call for this position. I started here in 2015.
What has your experience at Table 10 been like so far?
Emeril’s restaurants give you more flexibility since it’s not corporate. I can do a lot with the menu as long as the cost makes sense and it tastes good. Creativity isn’t shunned upon. When I took over, my first project was revamping the entire menu, and we do it each season and really let the ingredients speak to us. We source from local farmers and we like to promote that. I want the food to be for the people, not for me. I want to fill the dining room every night and give an experience you can’t get anywhere else on the Strip—a nice fine-dining meal at a really affordable price.
What are the most challenging things and most rewarding things about your career?
The lack of family time is definitely challenging; I spend a lot of hours and nights here. Managing people can also be challenging. Not everyone has the same mentality that you do when it comes to cooking and you want people to reflect your vision. The most rewarding part is the instant gratification of going out and talking to guests. Also, knowing that you’re helping to mentor people and watch them grow is a really rewarding feeling.
Do you have any advice for younger chefs entering the industry?
Know that it’s not easy. This is something you need to have a passion for, be determined and surround yourself with people who will support you and watch you grow. It takes a lot of years to learn and train. Get your foot in the door anywhere you can and get experience.