Photo credit: Erin Cooper Photography

Jenn Landry has found a safe place in the kitchen. 

After an established culinary career in New Orleans and Atlanta, Landry came to Las Vegas seeking solace following her eldest son’s death. While it took the chef time to find a job, it seems to have paid off as she’s opened the Art District’s new restaurant 18bin as the executive chef.

How’d you start cooking?

Basically, I was raised by my father and my mom had left when I was an infant and went back to Hawaii. He and I started cooking at a young age, but I thought I wanted to be an accountant and I even went to a technical college for accounting and hated my life. I watched the clock drag around. So I thought if I was happier at Taco Bell, I might as well make something of it.

I went to the Culinary Institute of New Orleans and finished the two-year program and right after finishing, helped to open Café Adelaide at Loews Hotel. I opened the restaurant and worked there about 10 years.

Eventually you went to Atlanta, but ended back up in New Orleans, how’d you end up in Vegas?

After the first year, my son was killed. I buried him on a Saturday and went back to work on Tuesday. [My boss said] get some rest, and I said, ‘If I don’t come back, I’m gonna die.’ And he just said to come back in when I needed, but he wasn’t going to schedule me.

After the first year anniversary of his death, it was a reality and I stepped out from the kitchen.

I actually was driving Uber and dropped a couple off at a restaurant and was telling them about the chef and an hour later he calls and asks, ‘What are you doing?’ And that a friend needed some help, an executive sous chef. So I went on and helped, and Starwood Hotels bought it out and we were called in, and we thought we were getting raises, but they wanted to decrease our salary. 

In between all my stops and my son dying, they never made an arrest. December 8 is four years and over the last couple years, it just became too much.

My sister was teaching here and I’d been a few times and with a resume like mine, I just said I’m going to Vegas. When I got here, I didn’t realize how painful it would be to get on the Strip. I turned in app after app, going foot to foot to the 20 I put in to show face. I filled out apps at all the Emeril’s, thinking most of my career is where he started. I’m thinking someone in this restaurant has to know these restaurants I’m coming from. The corporate Chef, Shawn, gave me a call, said he looked at the app but didn’t have any positions, so he’d send out to a few friends. He actually introduced me to John Paul Labadie, who was doing a chef consultant job for Sonny Ahuja, the owner of 18bin, who said, ‘You have a great resume, would you mind coming down?’”

So it was a tough road to get a job, but then you end up helping open a place. How’s that feel?

I’m beating myself up over not getting a job, but at the end now, I’m super stoked I didn’t get any of those other doors. I’m glad they didn’t open for me. I hear a lot about just being a number and sucked into the black hole of the casino, but here in the downtown district I’m fully creatively taking ownership and it feels good. I’m hoping that just in a little time Vegas will get to know me. If I got into the casinos, no one would ever hear me.

What a great time to get in off-the-Strip too…

There’re booming restaurants blooming everywhere and with what MGM is doing, this whole layoff thing that allowed us to retrieve a bunch of good staff, and this area really reminds me of home. Las Vegas is very similar to New Orleans. They have a lot in common; the city never sleeps. 

You’ve been through a lot, what does the kitchen mean to you?

The kitchen was my place that no one could get a piece of me. When I’m in the kitchen, the hectic chaos, even on a good day, it keeps me moving and not dwelling on all the things I’ve been through that people wouldn’t want to dream about. It keeps me alive. I just always thrive in the kitchen and it’s saved my life.

What’s the long-term plan?

I definitely want to see a New Orleans restaurant. I’d like to bring that to Vegas. We have every type of restaurant you could think of, every cuisine is here. I’ve never been in a city and seen so many places with so many cuisines, yet very little New Orleans.