dsm Exclusive: Proudfoot & Bird’s New Executive Chef

This tomato salad debuted during dsm Restaurant Week and is one of many new items chef James Richards plans to bring to the Proudfoot & Bird menu.

Writer: Karla Walsh

From washing dishes at Leaning Tower of Pizza in Ankeny at age 14 to being selected by Emeril Lagasse to helm his popular Las Vegas restaurant Table 10 at the Palazzo from 2015 to 2018, James Richards is glad he took a bet on dipping his toe into the hospitality industry, starting in the Des Moines metro area.

“I’ve found comfort in kitchens for as long as I can remember,” says Richards, who is the new executive chef at Proudfoot & Bird in the Hotel Fort Des Moines. “Some of my favorite memories are cooking with my great aunt Portia. She taught me by taste, touch and feel—there were no recipes.”

While studying culinary arts at DMACC from 2007 to 2010, Richards met his wife, Lindsey, “who was crazy enough to move halfway across the country and chase daydreams. I am thankful for her every single day,” he adds.

As part of his final weeks as a DMACC student, Richards spent three months in France for the program’s exclusive French Chef Exchange scholarship. The experience “opened my eyes to what my world could be,” Richards says. “When I got back to Iowa in the summer of 2010, I knew I had to go elsewhere to continue learning and growing. … I wanted to risk it all, so I rolled the dice on Vegas.”

Richards’ rise in Vegas was rapid. He was promoted from vegetable cook at the Venetian’s Delmonico Steakhouse to sous chef at Emeril’s Fish House in the MGM Grand to chef de cuisine (the top of the top) at Lagasse’s Table 10 at the Palazzo. Richards’ work garnered so much media attention and accolades that he was chosen to compete on Food Network’s “Chopped” in 2018.

“As hard as I worked, I could not combat the hotel’s plan for remodels and renovations,” he says. “Table 10 shut its doors [in late 2017] and I helped carry the tables out of the hotel. That was a surreal moment.”

Lindsey and James decided to return to Iowa. She landed at Glen Oaks Country Club as pastry chef, and he added to his diverse resume at the Cafe and Provisions Lot F in Ames as well as at the River Center and Wakonda Club in Des Moines. On Aug. 15, he stepped into the role of executive chef at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, which includes running their chic restaurant, Proudfoot & Bird.

“I have always had this silly little dream of making Iowa a culinary destination and winning accolades like a James Beard award, or even a Michelin Star one day,” Richards tells dsm. Although he adored Wakonda Club and the team he was able to build there, he realized that he needed to work at a public, rather than private, venue to really make a splash.

Using as many local ingredients as possible and “treating them with love,” Richards says, “I believe the sky’s the limit. Once we get a rhythm, Proudfoot & Bird will blossom.”

Richards’ menu changes debuted as part of his Restaurant Week lineup—including a seasonal tomato salad, a show-stopping Arctic Char entree and a light and lovely poached pear dessert—and will continue on the regular menus soon. Keep up to date with the latest on the Hotel Fort Des Moines website, via  Facebook.com/ProudfootBirdIA and on Open Table.

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