Haute Dining: Chef Kerry Simon, the Rock-n-Roll Chef

Chef Kerry Simon

Chef Kerry Simon, dubbed the rock-n-roll chef by Rolling Stone magazine, is a culinary master who creates extraordinary signature American cuisine from the tantalizing gourmet dishes to the most decadent comfort food at his Las Vegas restaurant, Simon at Palms Place and his newest Las Vegas place in Harrah’s, KGB: Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers, the ultimate in burger selections with the Simon flair including build your own with the recipe he used to win Iron Chef America. Hard to believe, but Simon met his destiny working a summer job at Little Caesar’s Pizza. He was in his late teens, playing in band and wanted amps to go with his electric guitar.

Experimenting with recipes from a Julia Child cookbook, he discovered his true passion in cooking. After enrolling in the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and apprenticing at a three star hotel, Simon moved to New York City. He became the hottest chef with celebrities and, in 2002, opened his first restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. In 2008, he opened CatHouse at the Luxor and Simon at Palms Place. A pioneer in New American cooking, his Sunday brunch menu at Simon’s include the Junk Food Dessert Platter with “Hostess-style” cakes, cookies, caramel popcorn, mini-sundae, milkshake, Rice Krispie and Froot Loop treats, brownie and cotton candy, and the White Trash Brunch Menu, featuring pigs in a blanket and chicken and waffles.

Haute Living: You are credited as one of the chefs who pioneered new American cuisine. What is it?
Kerry Simon: That means, to me, any cuisine that is influential in American cooking.

HL: Is this comfort food?
KS: If you say comfort food, I think when I first started, it was something that everyone was bringing back and started recognizing it when I was doing it.  Now it is a part of our diet again. Even though I am a health-nut, macaroni and cheese is still one of my biggest sellers, next to steak.

I have discovered that many chefs create a cuisine to fit a venue; with you, the venue is designed to fit your cuisine.
KS: It’s what feels right as far as design goes. It’s like when I opened up (Simon’s) at the Hard Rock, it was my first restaurant and I had a very small budget.  I wanted something that had a very organic feel to it. I took it to the second step with (Simon) at the Palms, which is an all green-design restaurant, although that has not been easy. It is seafood with a sushi bar and very intimate in feeling.

HL: What about your new place, KGB: Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers?
KS: KGB offers a unique high-energy setting with the most delicious burgers anywhere.

How do you approach the process, including the menu?
KS: To me, when you do a project, the whole thing has to fit together; every dish has to work for the place. It has to feel like when you sit down to eat there, you’re going to get it. It going to be part of the whole program and experience and when you leave there, you’re going to say that these people treated me really nicely, I had a great meal, great time and it will always be in their head.

HL: What cuisines have you cooked?
KS: American cooking is my roots even thought my training is absolute French. But I don’t think there’s any cuisine that’s out there that I haven’t had my hands involved in one way or another.

HL: What about risks in the restaurant industry?
KS: One thing if you look at my career through the years, I have taken a lot of gambles, some which were not so great, so that were very great. I very searching, spiritual person so there is something that happens through everything I have done, whether it has been the lowest part of my career or the highest part of my career, that has some sort of relativeness to that (my career).

What inspires you?
KS: I think when people have the experience that every dish on the menu is really amazing. For example, chicken wings (at CatHouse). I must have spent three months developing them. I know it sounds silly but I went through so many different processes over chicken wings and it just went on and on. I finally found something that worked. It turned out to be a straightforward simple recipe. But you know, that is the way it works.

How do you stay so cutting edge in a very competitive business?
KS: At the end of it all, it is all about hard work. I study everything and look at everything that is going on. I read everything from newspapers to food magazines to cookbooks. That plays the biggest role in what I do.

HL: What would you tell people about cooking at home.
KS: The one thing I always tell people is to take chances. If you go into a store and you don’t know what a product is, go online, find out about it and play with it. If you are unsure about something (to do with cooking) work with it. Even if you make mistakes, it is okay. The next time you will get it right and do the research to get it right. That’s how I learned, I take chances. It’s like making a cheese soufflé. You don’t get it right the first time, but you give up, you won’t ever get it right. You have to keep working on it.