From 'Play Dough' to Seasoned Pro: Todd Harrington Crows at Yardbird

In Christine on The Scene by Christine McKellar

chef in white shirtSuffering succotash! No? Doesn’t ring the bell? How about cheesy grits, charred okra, or fried green tomatoes? For the more open minded and adventurous how about some smoked and roasted bone marrow or succulent fried frog legs?

Sha! Welcome to Yardbird Southern Table & Bar. Helmed by Executive Chef Todd Harrington, formerly the executive chef of Michel Richard’s Augustus Café at Caesars Palace, this new restaurant addition is setting the table southern style at the Venetian Las Vegas. Skip the marrow and legs if you will. There’s plenty of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and biscuits and gravy being served up.

According to Harrington, there’s a bit of southern down home goodness in us all. “Southern food has French, German, Irish, African and other ethnic roots. My grandmother had a Southern restaurant in Pittsburgh. She was British and Italian. She’s the whole reason I wanted to become a chef. When I was eight years old I was peeling potatoes for her for mashed potatoes and curly fries.”

While most other young lads were busy creating cars and odd objects with Play-Doh, Harrington was in the kitchen with grandma making homemade pasta. “She had an old-school kind of pasta machine with a hand crank,” he says. “I thought it was the most magical thing I’d ever seen. She had me making long pasta sheets then cutting out ravioli. It was the coolest thing!”

Harrington’s Irish mother owned a restaurant on the 9th green of a golf course. “She went to culinary school but didn’t really like it. She wasn’t into plating like the French do or into any crazy techniques. She liked simple home cooking. She’d just drop dried pasta into water.”

The enterprising young chef can relate to both maternal influences. “It’s easier to create good home cooking from the heart. French cuisine is more step by step. With French food there is a certain expectation that kind of restricts you. There’s more freedom of expression in Southern cooking.”

Owned and operated by Miami Beach-based 50 Eggs Inc., Yardbird is celebrating the grand opening of their Las Vegas expansion at the Venetian Restaurant Row with grandinterior shot of restaurant bar southern-style hospitality this weekend. VIPs, media and special guests will be treated to three tasting events.

Chef Todd has a special sweet treat planned for the occasion. “I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s going to be insane. There’s a story from top to bottom with this. We’ve been working on it for two weeks.”

This chef is no stranger to hard work. “We’ve been selling out specials like crazy. And we make fourteen hundred biscuits a day. Brand new biscuits every minute,” claims Harrington. “I wouldn’t trade being a chef for anything in the world. Chefs are gluttons for punishment. We love being in the heat.”

The heat doesn’t stop in the kitchen for Harrington. In his spare time he enjoys playing with his daughter. He also literally spends hours at the drawing board to create new menu items. “I’ve been photo work-shopping pictures of ideas. Before I do anything I draw the food and the plate for inspiration.”

This really comes as no surprise considering Harrington’s father was an architect. From that and from the magic of grandma’s play dough springs a seasoned pro with plans to create twenty-two new dishes at Yardbird this year. “From start to finish, Southern cooking comes naturally for me,” says Harrington. “I could eat it every single day.”

And so can you. Yardbird, which also boasts a formidable wine, whiskey and beer bar, is open seven days a week with brunch available on Sundays. -Christine McKellar

To view the Yardbird Southern Table & Bar menu or to reserve at table at the Venetian Restaurant Row Las Vegas, please Reservations can also be made by phone at: 702.297.6541