The Best of the Best: Las Vegas Chefs

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Joel Robuchon
Joël Robuchon

Photo Credit: Photography Anthony MairJoël Robuchon and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
MGM Grand Hotel and Casino
3799 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Joël Robuchon is an undisputed legend in fine dining.  The “Chef of the Century” has earned more Michelin Stars  — 28 to be exact — than any other chef. The 69-year-old restaurateur has redefined French dining in Las Vegas with the city’s only three-Michelin starred restaurant, Joël Robuchon. Robuchon plans on reaching an even broader audience with a new signature collection of curated wines and a brand new L’Atelier concept in Mumbai later this year. As more and more foodies opt for a plant-based diet, Robuchon’s latest venture will look to the wave of the future: vegetarian cuisine.

It is rumored that you are planning to open a restaurant in Mumbai.  Is this true, and if so, what is the concept?
I am indeed planning on opening in Mumbai. Although openings usually have a fluctuating date, I am looking forward to its opening prior to the end of 2014. It will be a L’Atelier concept; it has proven to be a concept that transcends both generational and cultural boundaries, as it expresses conviviality and creativity so well. One of the primary reasons I was attracted to India was the country’s focus on vegetal cuisine: I plan on not only opening a restaurant, but on learning about the culture while I am there. The menu will therefore change more after I open.

What inspired you to curate the Joël Robuchon collection of wines, and what makes this collection unique?
As you know, the marriage of food and wine is an absolute necessity – whether enjoying the 16-course degustation menu or a simple selection of cheeses with friends. I have made some very close friends, namely Bernard Magrez, who produce very high-quality wines. I believe that quality needs to be promoted, and I chose some great selections and present them in my restaurants around the world.

How did you get your start in the culinary industry?
Well you know, I began cooking not because of a love of cooking but because my parents told me that if I learned to cook, at least I would never go hungry! Growing up in post-war France, we did not have access to what a lot of families have today. I started cooking in a seminary, working with the nuns to prepare food for everyone there; this was by no means the type of cuisine that is now seen in my restaurants. I peeled potatoes, tomatoes, etc. but it was during this time that I learned that I wanted to cook – that I wanted to make something that could make people happy.

What made you want to open a restaurant in Vegas?
When I opened the restaurants almost 9 years ago, they were to be the first restaurants of mine in the United States. I very much wanted to open in the United States and at the time MGM Grand’s President Gamal Aziz, who was a big fan of good food, wanted to bring my restaurants in to raise the bar for culinary experiences available in Las Vegas and certainly here at MGM Grand.

Where can we find you dining on the Strip when you’re not cooking at your restaurant?
If I’m in Las Vegas, I’m always at my restaurants!

What celebrities have you cooked for and how do you usually cater to them?
I’ve cooked for many celebrities over my career – my favorite ones in Las Vegas would have to be Celine Dion and David Copperfield. They have both been great friends to me and the restaurant since we opened. Celine was the first person who really spoke about my restaurants when we opened, bringing her friends and helping the success of the restaurants when we first started in Las Vegas.

Jean Georges Steakhouse ARIA RESORT and Casino 3730 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109 Prime Steakhouse Bellagio Resort and Casino 3600 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Jean-Georges Vongerichten

Photo Credit: Photography Anthony Mair

Jean Georges Steakhouse ARIA RESORT and Casino
3730 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Prime Steakhouse Bellagio Resort and Casino
3600 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Jean-Georges Vongerichten is always looking for a new challenge.  As the owner of three-Michelin starred Jean-Georges at the Trump Hotel of Central Park in New York City—along with 23 other restaurants—perfection is in his DNA. It is no surprise that his Las Vegas eateries, Prime Steakhouse and Jean-Georges Steakhouse Vegas, are two of the finest steakhouses in the world. This fall, Vongerichten will enter new territory as he plans to launch a new ABC restaurant in New York City focusing on vegan, vegetarian and raw cuisine. On the heels of his latest creation, he talks about his inspiration for this totally new concept.

What inspired you to open a vegan restaurant in New York City?
I grew up around many vegetable gardens, so fresh produce has always been a staple in my diet. For the past 20 years, people seemed to be eating more meat, but now the trend is people are eating more vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. I’ve noticed this a lot at ABC. I think people want to feel healthier.

Are you planning to bring a vegan or vegetarian concept to Las Vegas?
In my Las Vegas restaurants I do offer vegetarian menus that change seasonally to reflect the freshest produce. We don’t have any “signature” vegetarian items, but vegetarians will always find something delicious to enjoy.

If you were to open a new restaurant on the Strip, what culinary trends would you incorporate along with your own signature flair?
If I were to open a new restaurant on The Strip, it would be a farm-to-table concept similar to ABC. That’s the way I enjoy eating and I’d like to bring that style of eating to my Vegas guests.

Have you ever cooked for Donald Trump, and if so, what is his favorite dish?
Yes. Mr. Trump is a loyal guest of mine in NYC. He loves my cooked scallops and cauliflower.

What made you want to open a restaurant in Vegas?
Steve Wynn was a customer at my New York restaurant and visited while he was building Bellagio. He asked me if I was interested in opening a restaurant in Las Vegas and offered to fly myself as well as my family to Las Vegas the next day. When we arrived, the building was under construction and we got to tour it before the lake was even installed. He named a few restaurant spaces that he had available, one of them being a lakefront steakhouse, and I took that option. While I was in the airport on my way back to New York, he called to ask me for the restaurant’s name. Since I planned on serving prime meats and seafood I said, ‘Let’s call it Prime.’  The contracts were signed that day. I had a good feeling about the opportunity because I really trusted his vision.

Where can we find you dining on the Strip when you’re not cooking at your restaurant?
I eat all over Las Vegas when I come to town. There are so many amazing restaurants on the Strip as well as off the Strip. On the Strip, I enjoy Noodles at Bellagio, barMASA at ARIA and Bartolotta at Wynn. Off the Strip I love Raku and Kabuto.

What are your favorite places to hang out in Vegas?
There is a great new cocktail bar in downtown Las Vegas called Commonwealth. They have an excellent cocktail program. During one of my last visits I went to Hakkasan nightclub on a night when Calvin Harris was the DJ. What a great vibe!

What does your cuisine bring to Vegas?
I bring my sexiest food to Las Vegas, meaning my Vegas restaurants feature items I consider to be the “best of” my restaurants in New York. Both Prime and Jean Georges Steakhouse offer prime cuts of meat with different sauces and condiments. The sauces and accompaniments really bring out the flavor of the meats and make them pop.

Julian Serrano Aria Hotel & Casino  3733 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109 Picasso Bellagio Resort & Casino 3600 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Julian Serrano

Photo Credit: Photography Anthony Mair

Julian Serrano Aria Hotel & Casino
3733 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Picasso Bellagio Resort & Casino
3600 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

The Spanish tapa has been prepared many ways around the world, but no one can do it quite like Julian Serrano. The James Beard Award-winning chef has perfected the art of the tapa at his namesake restaurant inside ARIA, where small plates can be enjoyed among friends and family, just like they are in his native country of Spain. At his other Vegas eatery, Picasso, which holds two Michelin stars, food becomes art in a museum-like environment that is peppered with actual Picasso paintings. Serrano, who brings his fine dining experience from his famed (now closed) restaurant Masa’s in San Francisco, didn’t think his stay in Sin City would last as long as it has. Lucky for us, he’s found his niche and has no plans to leave anytime soon. 

You’ve said that the word “tapas” is overused. In your opinion, what makes the perfect Spanish tapa?
The word tapas should be used to describe food that can be consumed in two to three bites and makes guests happy.

You’ve said that you never planned to stay in Vegas as long as you have. Why not?
When I came here I said I wasn’t sure how long I would stay. It was a new city and very different from San Francisco, a city I was very familiar with. I wasn’t sure how my cuisine would be received.

How did you get your start in the culinary industry?
I decided to go to culinary school as a way to travel. I was interested in seeing the world and believed that food would provide me that opportunity. Once I began cooking I found a true passion and the rest is history.

What made you want to open a restaurant in Vegas?
More than 30 million people visit Las Vegas each year, making the city an amazing place to show people around the world what I do.

Where can we find you dining on the Strip when you’re not cooking at your restaurant?
I enjoy a local restaurant called Vintner’s Grill located in Summerlin. It’s an American bistro concept that offers great food in a pleasant atmosphere.

What are your favorite places to hang out in Las Vegas?
After work I like to head to Lobby Bar or Lift Bar at ARIA to unwind with friends. Hyde at Bellagio is also a great place for socializing with a beautiful view of the Fountains of Bellagio and upbeat music.

What celebrities have you cooked for and how do you usually cater to them?
I’ve cooked for hundreds of celebrities including athletes, musicians, actors, actresses, and politicians. I treat them as I would any other guest – with respect. I greet them, ask if they’d like me to prepare a specialty menu and take into consideration any dietary restrictions they may have.

What’s the key to your success on the Strip?
Consistency. When guests walk into Picasso or Julian Serrano, they can guarantee the experience will always live up to their previous visit. I am happy to provide a great value and exceptional experience to every guest.

What does your cuisine bring to Las Vegas?
Both of my restaurants offer consistently good food in inviting, social environments. At Julian Serrano, the tapas concept creates an experience where people share different items while engaging in conversation. At Picasso, the menu is smaller and we offer a prix fixe menu, so guests don’t have to worry about ordering —they can sit back, relax and enjoy their company.

Bardot Brasserie Aria Resort & Casino  3730 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89158 Michael Mina Bellagio 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Las Vegas, NV 89109 Pub 1842 MGM Grand 3799 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89117 StripSteak Mandalay Bay 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Las Vegas, NV 89119
Michael Mina

Photo Credit: Photography Eric Ita

Bardot Brasserie Aria Resort & Casino
3730 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89158

Michael Mina Bellagio
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Pub 1842 MGM Grand
3799 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89117

StripSteak Mandalay Bay
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Las Vegas, NV 89119

James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Mina keeps soaring to new heights as a chef, author and TV personality. Since partnering with Andre Agassi in 2002 to form the Mina Group, he’s opened more than 20 restaurants of which include three in Las Vegas: Michael Mina, Pub 1842 and StripSteak. Mina is adding to his collection this year with a new Parisian-inspired restaurant at ARIA, Bardot Brasserie. Opening one new eatery per year is simply not enough for Mina, who also plans on  bringing three new concepts to the San Francisco Bay  area this year. 

Can you give us an idea of what’s to come at Bardot Brasserie?
Bardot is going to be a nod to Hemingway’s Paris. It will be a place to start the evening with cocktails, celebrate with friends and enjoy a lively afternoon brunch on weekends.  You’ll see a menu that reflects traditional brasserie fare with a beverage program that is a tip of the hat to the eclectic bars found in Paris Districts.

What are your plans after opening your new restaurants in Las Vegas and San Francisco this year?
We have Pabu and The Ramen Bar opening in July, followed by the opening of Bourbon Steak & Pub and the Michael Mina Tailgate experience at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, home of the San Francisco 49ers.  I am very excited about this project — it is a dream come true!  This fall, we’ll be opening Locale Market and Farmtable Kitchen in Saint Petersburg, Florida. I’m thrilled to partner with an amazing chef, my good friend Don Pintabona on our first ever market concept.  Rounding out the year, we’ll open Bardot Brasserie at ARIA in Las Vegas and our second StripSteak location at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.

What are Andre Agassi’s favorite restaurants in the Mina group?
Andre is an amazing and inspiring mentor.  He and Steve Miller have played a vital role in guiding me.  They both love StripSteak. Andre’s favorite dish is the Wagyu Rib Cap.

Where can we find you dining on the Strip when you’re not cooking at your restaurant?
The omakase menu at barMASA is out of this world. Aburiya RAKU (off the Strip) is another favorite.  I love visiting Scott Conant at Scarpetta whenever I get a chance, too.

What are your favorite places to hang out in Las Vegas?
The Petrossian Lounge at the Bellagio is still one of my favorite places to unwind after service.

Do you hang with any of the other chefs on the strips, and if so, who?
It all just depends who is in town.  Jose Andres, Julian Serrano, Mark LoRusso, Todd English, Mario Batali and Scott Conant – chefs are a pretty welcoming group.

What celebrities have you cooked for? How do you usually cater to them?
I’ve cooked for a number of celebrities. I’m honored to have cooked for President Obama twice.  We cater to celebrities in the same way we cater our guests, with excellent food and service that creates a lasting memory.  We also make it a point to respect their privacy so that they can fully enjoy the experience.

Hubert Keller
Hubert Keller

Photo Credit: Eric Ita

Fleur Mandalay Bay Restaurant and Casino
3950 S Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89119

Burger Bar – Las Vegas Mandalay Place
3930 Las Vegas Blvd S, #121A, Las Vegas, NV 89119

Chef Hubert Keller has dazzled American audiences with his charming personality and mouth-watering French cooking. In addition to hosting his own show on PBS, he also has a recurring role as guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef.  Today, the Las Vegas resident is moving on from his iconic San Francisco Restaurant, Fleur De Lys. He is happily staying focused on what keeps him busy, which includes running two bustling Las Vegas eateries — and moonlighting as a DJ.  Yes, you read that right.

You had a side-gig in San Francisco as a DJ; where can we find you DJ’ing in Las Vegas?
I DJ at Mix at Mandalay Bay.  I also DJ at Wet Republic in the MGM Grand and at the Vegas Uncork’d pool parties. Also, when we had the 10th anniversary at Burger Bar, I took over the deck.

How did you get your start in the culinary industry?
I started my apprenticeship at L’Auberge de L’Ill in Illhaeusern run by the Haeberlin Brothers. That was the only three-star restaurant in the eastern part of France at that time. My [now] wife was always very supportive when I was part of the training, moving and going to different restaurants. Eventually, I ended up working for Roger Verge, who sent me to Paris.  I was working for another restaurant when he called me up one day and said, “I’m going to open a restaurant in Brazil.” Of course, I was really happy to go to Brazil.  Once I was running that restaurant for two years,  he called me again and said, “I’m going to open a restaurant in San Francisco”— that’s how I came to San Francisco.  Four years later, we took over Fleur de Lys.

What made you want to open a restaurant in Vegas?
The [then] owner of the Mandalay Bay was a good customer of ours in San Francisco. He asked if we would consider opening a Fleur de Lys in the Mandalay Bay. Today, I am extremely happy that we made that move.  Now there are so many great restaurants here and it’s very competitive. But that makes it a real restaurant city; it’s now like San Francisco where restaurants are very competitive.

Where can we find you dining on the Strip when you’re not cooking at your restaurant?
That’s a question that I have a hard time answering because I have too many friends here!  If I mention one or two, I will have another twelve that will be upset.  Off the strip, I would go to Raku, an amazing Japanese restaurant.

What are your favorite places to hang out in LasVegas?
Right now, I like to hang out between Hakkasan and Light at Mandalay Bay.

Do you hang with any of the other chefs on the strips, and if so, who?
I have a quite a few chef friends. Julian Serrano has been a dear friend of mine since he was in San Francisco. Also, Alain Ducasse always stops by at the restaurant when he’s here.

What’s the key to your success on the Strip?
Consistency. It’s the same philosophy that I had at Fleur de Lys in San Francisco that I’m applying at Fleur. The restaurant scene in Vegas is very competitive, and people have so many choices when they come here.  At the end, they will pick the one where they are really satisfied.

Mario Batali
Mario Batali

Photo Credit: Donnelly Marks

B&B Ristorante, B&B Burger & Beer and Otto  The Venetian
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Carnevino The Palazzo
3325 Las vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Mario Batali is one of the country’s most celebrated Italian chefs; a man who has become a true superstar television personality. With shows on the Food Network and PBS, his appearances on Iron Chef and now, his hosting gig on The Chew, Batali is a household name. He and his business partner Joe Bastianich co-own the B&B Hospitality Group that encompasses restaurants in Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, Singapore, and Hong Kong. His Sin City restaurants in particular have been credited with paving the way for the city to become a renowned culinary destination. 

You’ve said that you left Iron Chef because judges were turning into entertainers. Does that mean that you will no longer participate in any food competitions? I actually really enjoy participating in competitions when I can take on more of a mentor role, as opposed to judging or being judged. We do competitions on The Chew all the time where I’ll partner up with a home cook and help him or her out with a dish to win silly prizes. I think it’s important to make these competitions a fun learning experience, and I would never want to make contestants feel less confident in their culinary skills by making the judging the most important factor.

The Chew cameras followed you around for a day; what would be the most surprising thing to know about you, which the cameras did not capture?
I’m a really early riser and think I’m most productive first thing in the morning. I woke up so early that day that The Chew crew couldn’t even capture it!

You’ve been involved in social activism and philanthropy; what do you consider to be your biggest contributions to either category?
I think when you’re in a position to give back and speak out about a cause that is important to you, it would be selfish not to seize that opportunity. Some of my proudest moments have been reading books to children at one of our five Books for Kids libraries across the country. The Mario Batali Foundation and what it stands for — ensuring that kids are well read, well fed and well cared for — is a big achievement for me in itself.

Where can we find you dining on the Strip when you’re not cooking at your restaurant?
Even when I’m not helping out in the kitchen, I still eat at all of my restaurants because I love them. But if I have to stray away, Chef Jose Andres’ newest project, China Poblano, is out of this world. His take on Chinese and Mexican fusion is spot on, and the salt air margaritas are a great start to my night out in Vegas.

What are your favorite places to hang out in Vegas?
If I’m not relaxing on my balcony in the Palazzo, I’m probably at Cascada Golf Course in the early morning, playing a round with my buds. I love coming back to B&B Burger and Beer afterwards to hang out with some kickass burgers and brews.

Do you hang with any of the other chefs on the Strip, and if so, who?
I always love running into Daniel Boulud, whether it’s in New York City or on the Strip. Thomas Keller is a really standup guy, and we just had a blast together at the Mario Batali Foundation golf tournament last spring. [Emeril] Lagasse is always a kick, and usually matches my upbeat mood. My old pal Kerry Simon really makes my trip happy when I get to see him every few months out there. And I love any chance I can get to hang out with Paul Bartolotta, Michael Mina, Brad Ogden or Wolfgang [Puck].

What’s the key to your success on the Strip?
It’s really about finding the right people to carry out your vision of the restaurants, and our team in Vegas has it down to a science. The four restaurants have formed a B&B Vegas family that takes care of each other and pushes each other to strive for the best. It really shines through in the food and in the service.

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