The public may know New York native chef Herbert Wilson from his stint on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, or possibly from his distinction as being the only chef to ever earn two stars from the New York Times on three different occasions, from three different reviews, at three different restaurants he has helmed. His most recent gig as executive chef at Las Vegas’ bustling Sushi Samba perfectly prepared him to head Red Ginger, Keith Menin, and Jared Galbut’s long-awaited South of Fifth sushi concept that will feature Peruvian influences and a Japanese robata grill. Here’s what he had to say to Haute Living ahead of the opening.
HL: What was it like to work with Keith and Jared on this new concept?
HW: I think Keith and Jared gave me a road map. They wanted me to get on and see where it would take us.
HL: Where did it take you?
HW: We’re going to offer dishes from our sushi bar, and we have a hot kitchen with a robata grill and tempuras. Expect local snapper and grouper ceviche with Peruvian sauces, like Leche de Tigre. There will also be some special surprises and different foods that haven’t been seen on the beach.
HL: Will Red Ginger be very seasonal?
HW: Yes, I really want to subscribe to the seasons in terms of what we’re cooking; I want to try and not use anything out of season. I think food is like fashion—you always have to stay one step ahead of the curve in terms of what’s cutting edge. It’s sort of [the same] with designers—one year, skirts are high, and another year, skirts are low. These trends and which ingredients are in season define what I cook.
HL: What was filming Top Chef Masters like?
HW: It was fun. In the first episode, I jumped out of an airplane with David Burke at 13,000 feet and went into a field with no fire and no gas to cook, and there were—literally—sheep running. I didn’t win, but it’s an honor to have been chosen at all for that show. In [Top Chef] Masters you have to kind of check your ego at the door—some guys did; some guys didn’t, but I made some lasting friendships.
HL: What do you think is the most important thing in the kitchen?
HW: Ingredients—I think everything is driven by them. If two chefs cook with the same piece of amazing fish, it’s an equal playing field. But [if I’m the one cooking and] my fish is just a little bit better than the other chef’s, I’m going to have the better dish.