Haute Dining: Chef Kim Canteenwalla — American Cuisine with a French Twist

Chef Kim Canteenwalla, originally from Montreal, embraces the classic American menu of favorites blending it with a French gourmet twist.

He began his culinary career at the Institute of St. Denis in Montreal and continued to work in his native Canada as sous chef for the luxurious five-star Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto. With his expertise and talent, Canteenwalla served as executive chef for Raffles International Hotel Group, Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Grand Mirage Resort Bali, Indonesia.

Canteenwalla would meet his future wife, Elizabeth Blau, while serving as executive chef at Beau Rivage. She recruited him to the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. From there, Canteenwalla joined forces with Steve Wynn to open Society Café Encore as executive chef/partner.

Canteenwalla continues to participate in international culinary events, including the Bon Appétit Wine and Spirits festival in San Francisco and Las Vegas and Carnival du Vin at the Venetian. In 2005, Canteenwalla teamed up with chef and partner Kerry Simon for Food Network’s “Iron Chef America Series,” winning that challenge.

Canteenwalla is a golfer, and shares the outdoors with his wife, their son and two dogs. Canteenwalla is also a car enthusiast, driving a classic 1989 Jaguar or 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.

Discussing the menu, Society Café Encore features breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night. Some specialties include chicken wings shaped like lollipops, mac ‘n’ cheese portioned into bite-size pieces and spicy shrimp served in lettuce cups and barbecue ribs.

Haute Living: Growing up in Montreal with French, Canadian and American influences, how did these different cultures shape your focus on cooking and your own cuisine?
Kim Canteenwalla: The food culture in Montreal sparked my curiosity to explore many different cuisines at an early age. In addition to all the European influences, there were a lot of ethnic communities such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and Thai. My parents would take us to all these different restaurants and I would cook on the weekends with my father experimenting with these different cuisines. This exposure fueled my desire to travel and helped shape the variety in my own style of cuisine.

HL: Where did you receive your culinary training?
KC: The Institute St Denis in Montréal. My biggest influence and inspiration was my father.

HL: What cuisines are you proficient in? What cuisines do you enjoy cooking? Are there any cuisines you would like to master?
KC: I can cook Thai, Indonesian, French, American and Spanish. I truly enjoy cooking and working with the many techniques that come out of the Mediterranean, I would like to master Chinese cuisine. Watching a Chinese kitchen function is extremely efficient and organized. A master wok chef never really moves from the one position, which is manning the main wok station.

HL: At Society Café Encore, you blend gourmet dining with comfort food. Do you have a name for this cuisine? In what ways do you combine the two styles of food?
KC: I think the food is creative and fun. I take great quality product and present it in an approachable, playful and creative manner, without losing the integrity of the product or the cooking method.

HL: What is it about Steve Wynn that he maintains professional relationships, such as yours, for decades? What does Mr. Wynn like to eat at Society Café Encore?
KC: I have great respect and admiration for Mr. Wynn. He has passion for everything he does and he thinks outside of the box. The fish and chips at Society were one of his favorites and with his new vegan diet he enjoys our salads and dressings.

HL: Do you cook at home and, if so, what do you enjoy cooking?
KC: We love to entertain at the house. Thanksgiving has seen as many as 40 people for dinner. Summer barbecues with American classics, Asian and Mediterranean accents such as crab fried rice and Balinese spicy tiger prawns on a sugar cane skewer the use of fresh herbs, marinades and grill items make for simple and healthy summer/sun cuisine. My wife is the dessert queen and bakes amazing pies, cakes and cookies always using seasonal fruits.

HL: I understand your young son likes to cook. What influences him?
KC: Cole is big on making pancakes as well as pasta and loves to bake cookies with his mother. He has twice been featured with me on live TV cooking segments. Cole is also inspired by a lot of traveling from a very young age with us to many different regions in the U.S. as well as international travel. He has experienced a lot of five-star hotels and is quite adept with room service breakfast.

HL: Your career has taken you all over the world. How do you incorporate authentic cooking with American tastes?
KC: America is a melting pot of cuisines so our guests at Society are always open for bold flavors and new tastes.

HL: Do you see a difference between international and domestic visitors in their tastes and requests?
KW: International visitors tend to like spice and bolder flavors and are more willing to experiment and eat a variety of courses. The international traveler tends to spend more time while dining and also tends to dine later in the evening.

For the domestic visitor I like to work with classics and giving it my twist. Guests love our new American pot stickers with fillings such as pulled pork barbecue and Virginia slaw, the reuben and Philly cheese steak. We always try to accommodate both domestic and international requests to change/add to menu items at all times for their various likes, diets, allergies, etc.

HL: What is your specialty at the moment for Society Café Encore? What do you wish to incorporate in the future?
KW: We have put together a vegan tasting menu, which is available to our guests. One of our signature dishes is our truffled fried mac n cheese bites with truffle dipping sauce, which has a blend of five cheeses, and of course our triple XXXL chocolate cake and Whoopee pies with Bailey’s Irish cream float. Keeping the menus seasonal and interesting is a main goal for Society Café.

HL: Other than your own, what is your favorite restaurant in Las Vegas and why?
KW: Bartolotta at Wynn for the beautiful cabanas and freshest Mediterranean fish and seafood so simply prepared you taste the quality and freshness of the product.