Jennifer Landry: The Chefs Who Cook Las Vegas

By Bob Barnes

Oftentimes the unsung heroes of a restaurant are the leaders of the kitchen, who are toiling behind the scenes to provide a pleasurable dining experience for the eatery’s patrons.

In this series we shine a spotlight on talented, creative and unique individuals who have or are becoming the culinary superheroes of our city and what paths they have taken to establish themselves as rising and established gastronomic stars. We examine their unique attributes and what has helped to make them become the best of the best, and salute these culinary stars of which ranks include celebrity chefs, small business chef/owners and executive chefs.

Jennifer Landry — The Kitchen Is Her Refuge

Jennifer Landry originally planned to work in the world of finance with a career as an accountant. But upon experiencing its drudgery, found a place that was a better fit for both her happiness and sanity: the kitchen.   

Early Culinary Aspirations and Inspiration

Raised in New Orleans by her Cajun father after her mother left when she was an infant, Jennifer early on became the woman of the house. Since her father worked long hours, she started cooking at a young age—so young in fact, that her father (who was a carpenter) built her a stool to stand on in the kitchen. Jennifer credits her father as part of her culinary roots, and says, “He’s definitely the person who inspired me to cook. He’s a great Cajun/Creole cook himself.” She also spent time in Kauai, Hawaii visiting her mother and also lived there during her high school years.

As she grew older, she thought a job in accounting was for her, but after earning an associate degree in accounting and working in the field and dreadfully watching the clock, she realized she had been much happier working as a teenager at Taco Bell and a mom-and-pop restaurant. So, she came to realize she was cut out for something else and headed back to school.

Chef Jennifer was a single mom of two small boys, but felt she had to further her culinary career, so she attended the Culinary Institute of New Orleans, a CIA-affiliated school. Right after graduating in 2004, she helped to open Café Adelaide at the Loews Hotel in New Orleans. After working as a prep and line cook, she was eventually promoted to saucier (a management position just below sous chef). Ironically, it was after the saucier chef (Larry) didn’t show up to work because he was in jail and Chef Jennifer stepped in to do all the work.

She says, “When (the head) chef shows up he said, ‘Where’s Larry?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know Chef,’ because I didn’t want to throw Larry under the bus and say he was in jail. Chef saw that everything was done, and even though usually to be a saucier you’re a line cook for some time, he saw that I could do the work and he moved me up to saucier.”

After 10 years, after she had reached the maximum pay scale, she agreed to take a cut in pay to take the banquet sous chef position for the experience, to grow as a chef and to prepare her for her next move. Chef Jennifer then headed to Atlanta and was promoted to the chef de cuisine job at Loews Hotel’s fine dining restaurant, a position she would hold for three years. 

Tragedy Turned to Escape Through Work

Chef Jennifer made her way back to New Orleans to be around her family and had been the executive sous chef at the fine dining Restaurant R’evolution for a year when the ultimate of tragedies struck—her oldest son was tragically murdered, just shy of his 18th birthday. She returned to work just days after his funeral and recalls, “My boss wanted me to take some time, but I said, ‘If I go home I’m gonna die,’ so I buried myself in this industry and escaped through work.” 

Las Vegas Is Calling

image courtesy of Chef Drollinger

In 2019, after the three-year anniversary of her son’s death, and an arrest never having been made, her younger stepsister, who lived in Las Vegas, invited her to move out west. Chef Jennifer recalls, “She told me, ‘Vegas is the in-scene for chefs and you’ll love it here.’ I love water and rain, the desert is not for me, but once it became the third-year anniversary, I said you know what, the desert doesn’t look so bad after all. So we made the move, and I came out here with no job.” 

First Job in Las Vegas

After arriving in Las Vegas, she hit the ground running, put in applications at several Strip restaurants to no avail, but in October, 2019 a connection from New Orleans introduced her to Downtown Container Park’s Bin 702 owner Sonny Ahuja, who was looking for an executive chef to open the new 18bin restaurant in the Arts District. In this position Chef Jennifer had the freedom to let her roots shine, putting dishes such as Cajun Jambalaya, Gumbo and Southern Spicy Sauce Chicken Lollipops on the menu.

Chef Jennifer Lands on the Strip

After the pandemic hit and for a time shut down 18Bin and a position at Circa’s 8 East didn’t pan out, in 2020 Chef Jennifer achieved her goal and made her way to the Vegas Strip, landing the executive chef spot at Stack, one of Las Vegas’ classiest steakhouses.

Chef Jennifer describes Stack as: “They spent a lot of money on this place and the décor is amazing. It’s a fine dining experience and fine dining food, but it’s fun and funky, and not uptight.” The restaurant’s ambience exudes rich earth tones and chic, with wood throughout, including woodgrain flooring, tables, and stacked wood shelves rising up to the ceiling. By design, the restaurant’s dress is listed as casual, so you don’t have to feel stuffy while dining in style.

image courtesy of Jeff Drollinger

Naturally, since reopening Stack she has brought some New Orleans and Cajun influences to the menu and nightly or seasonal specials, such as the crawfish etouffee (that is served with the Grouper), Shrimp & Grits, Oysters Rockafellahh (actual spelling), Gumbo, Crawfish Tamales and Bananas Foster Bread Pudding. Of course, it’s a steakhouse, so you’ll not be disappointed by the carnivorous delights, of which I have to proclaim the crème de la crème to be the Ultimate Surf and Turf: two-pound shrimp-stuffed Maine lobster, choice of 36-oz bone-in tomahawk ribeye or 32-oz porterhouse and two sides.     

Extremely High Praises from the Staff

Two of Stack’s longest working waitstaff have some remarkable words of praise for Chef Jennifer. Vince DeMarzio has been at Stack for 17 years and says, “I’ve seen lots of great chefs come and go, but Chef Landry is my favorite for several reasons: raw talent, passion, she’s patient with us if we make a mistake, I’ve learned a lot from working with her, she brings a great vibe and she’s made it more of a family environment for the staff. She lets you know you’re respected and that makes it a lot more fun to come to work. She’s genuine and a people person and has a tableside presence chatting with guests.”

image courtesy of Chef Drollinger

Robert Collins, who has been a server at Stack for nearly 16 years, concurs: “I’m blessed to be able to work with her. She is a culinary genius and I love her family aspect, how she embraces everyone, her motivation, knowledge of food in general and the energy she brings on a daily basis. She’s by far one of the best (chefs) we’ve had in this room.” 

When She’s Not Working

Chef Jennifer describes herself as a homebody who cooks a lot at home and is not into flashy lights, partying or going out much. As for preferred activities, anything to do with water is a draw for her: “Swimming, kayaking, fishing, Willow Beach is one of my favorites and La Jolla in San Diego is beautiful.”

Here to Stay?

Chef Jennifer at 44 years old, has proven herself and shown what she can do at one of the top steakhouses on the Strip. Returning to New Orleans would hold too many memories of her son’s death and lack of justice, so barring a major opportunity, she is in Las Vegas to stay, which is indeed very good news for our city.

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