Chef Lee Hillson recently returned to T. Cooks at Royal Palms Resort and Spa as executive chef and he couldn’t be happier. He spent 12 years at the iconic resort in the early 2000s as executive sous chef and then as executive chef. Hillson, a James Beard House featured chef and a participant on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, has also graced the kitchens of The Phoenician Resort and the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass. We caught up with the jovial chef recently to see how things are going since his return.
Why did you decide to come back?
I’m just super excited to be back because I love the Royal Palms. It’s like home. To me it’s one of the most beautiful places in the Valley, if not in the world. It’s gorgeous and my heart is here and I think so many people who work here feel the same. It’s just a great opportunity to come home. We have a phenomenal team here.
How have you revised the menu?
We’ve taken it back to a Mediterranean feel. I brought some old classics back – the lobster bisque, pasta carbonara and paella, although it’s coming from the kitchen and not being fired in the fireplace. It’s still very good and has a great flavor. I’m just bringing back some of the old flavor profiles and making it more comfort style. I think the menu is more approachable now.
What about Sunday brunch?
You can have the brunch buffet, which has charcuterie and shellfish platters and breakfast items like scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes. We also have smoked fish and desserts and different types of salads and you can choose from five or six different entrees, anything from Mary’s chicken breast to braised short ribs to the breakfast burger that one of my sous chefs came up with. It’s a burger with bacon, hollandaise sauce and egg. It’s to die for. We also have peanut banana French toast with bacon mascarpone and crème anglaise. It’s off the charts good.
What do you have planned for the future?
I want to get the fireplace back up and running because that was always such an amazing focal point in the restaurant. And then sometime next year, not sure yet when, we’ll have lunch cooking classes and demos. The guests will come in – anywhere from 2-10 people – and I or one of the sous chefs will make a three-course lunch in front of them. It will be interactive.
Who inspires you in the culinary world?
My mother. I remember just being in the kitchen cooking with her when I was a kid and I loved watching my parents cooking. It was something that I’d always wanted to do. Whenever I eat certain things, it brings back memories and really that’s what we’re trying to do in the restaurant. It’s just really about invoking memories and taking people back to a happy place.