What happened in Vegas.

I had plans to write about clashing personalities in the kitchen, until something happened in Las Vegas over the weekend.

I was inspired.

Most chefs seek out inspiration;  they travel, and stage, and eat.  The thinking is that total immersion in great kitchens and dining rooms will bring a spark--hopefully a new technique, or flavor combination...something progressive that can be expanded on and used to further their cuisine.  Coming back to their own kitchen, some chefs push to bring their cooks up to speed.  What would happen if these new ideas and inspiration somehow passed them by?

This was not what happened to me over the weekend.  I did not see progressive cooking.  There were no techniques that I had never seen before, and all of the flavor pairings played it safe.  To go even further than that, I mostly ate what I could only assume was largely frozen/bought in/pay-no-mind-to-how-fucked-these-ingredients-are kinds of items.  And it was here, amidst meaningless celebrity chef restaurants, poor ingredients, merchandising, and an overt "I don't love this restaurant but I love the money" attitude that I found inspiration.  It's always in the most unlikely place.

After 6 years since my last visit, I was hoping that Vegas had possibly progressed a bit.  There are farmers markets there, an endless stream of money, and a long line of young cooks eager to step off of the buffet line.  The town had moved beyond Emeril, Puck, and even Mina (kinda.)  How could you go wrong with chefs like Guy Savoy and Robuchon stepping into the mix?  There has been countless Travel Channel shows extolling the amazing balance of big volume cooking meets deeply passionate chefs topped off by brilliant efficiency.  And yet, I saw none of this.  It was as if all the name chefs were just signing over their names and sending a vague instruction manual on how to operate their concept.  And they were all eating it up.

Vegas has an illness, where the food is either dirt cheap or insanely expensive.  Dining at L'atelier--where the food was beautiful and tasty--I couldn't help but be taken aback by the prices.  $25 for a single egg, with button mushrooms and asparagus?  $38 for 4 pieces of kampachi, with olives and tomatoes?  And even Burger Bar got in the mix.  $16 burgers, with frozen fries, and a .45 cent charge for aioli.  It would seem only the desert outpost of the Carnegie Deli got it right, with massive sandwiches for around $20.

And what about the ingredients?  Never once did I see the words organic, or local, or seasonal. No doubt the endless throngs of weekend revelers could care less about these things...but isn't there virtue in trying to do the right thing?  Couldn't a hotel group find an angle behind selling good food?  Instead of the ubiquitous farmers roll call found on so many California menus, I only found an ad for Hubert Keller approved Burger Bar thongs.  What kind of girl wants her underwear to say "Burger Bar" on them?

All I could think of was coming home, and cooking great ingredients with people that cared.  I longed to be in a place that was loved.  I had been inspired by what not to do...which was followed quickly by a renewed appreciation for my previous day to day inspirations.  Looking at all of the money and extravagence of Vegas, it all seemed so silly.  I refuse to believe that these hotel groups have their fingers firmly on the pulse of what America wants...instead I think that they're better at forcibly telling them. 

Every meal--good or bad, brings you closer to a better realization of what you want and why you cook.  You need to look at every aspect...from the time you're greeted to the time you pay the check.  Is the place clean, even where the guest doesn't normally look?  Is there someone there to say goodbye on the way out?  Do the ingredients taste like what they are? (turnips at robuchon, im looking at you)  Are you left with a deeper appreciation of where you come from?


  • In the "which chef would you punch" survey, Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsay were the big winners
  • Nightclubs are ridiculous
  • Getting to know a new knife is kinda like having a new boyfriend or girlfriend
  • 3gs is very awesome, but I look like a crazy person using the voice command feature
  • I would also like to punch Shia Lebeouf
  • A fun game in Vegas is "porn star, stripper, or hostess at Chili's"
  • When the somm said she had a nice wine pairing to go with the foie gras burgers, she failed to mention that said glasses of wine were $35 each
  • Probably the best Spanish i've ever spoke was with the very drunk man from Guadalajara
  • I suppose it was a good thing that I didn't wake up and bet $50 on the US soccer team
  • To everyone that responded to the vegas tweets, thanks.  You guys are pretty funny

quotes and conversations.

Me:  What about you Goose?  You ever cry after you bone down?
Goose:  I would like to...when a guy bones down, there's not a whole lot of feeling.  Well, there's a lot of feeling, but not a whole lot of emotion.

"Jerk off into a bowl ten times?  I don't have that kind of stamina."

"I never made sex chicken in the shag wagon."

"You're married dude.  Nothing matters now."

Eddie:  I had granola and yogurt for breakfast.
Corey:  And you washed it down with a hot dog?
Eddie:  Two hot dogs.

Corey:  Eddie, did you have hot dogs for breakfast today?
Eddie:  Yeah.
Merrell:  Again?
Eddie:  Dude, they come in packages of eight...buying a package of hot dogs is a committment.

"Whoa!  I almost just sat on your head with my crotch!"

Maritess is wearing an "Everyone Loves An Irish Girl" t-shirt
Me:  You're not Irish.  What are you doing wearing that shirt?
Maritess:  Well everyone still loves them...

"I got a sex toy in my pants anyways, why would I need a new one?"

Me:  Gerardo, Paulie's gonna give you a hand job
Gerardo:  Right now?

"Did you just imitate me faking an orgasm?"

pictures 1-14 from l'atelier, sushi ball machine, farmers market, hot dogs, Vegas, us, porcini and egg, sardines, canneloni, halibut, twitter buddy, plums, dear hipster, ricotta, spotted parrotfish from Mike Black


Jeffrey said...

a friend of mine who lived in Vegas once sent me a local paper's "readers' choice" feature a couple years back. for all the big names in town, it was pretty damn depressing.
best chinese? PF Chang's
best mexican? Chili's
best italian? Olive Garden
best bar? TGI Fridays

on and on and on with the predictable chains. what good is a Thomas Keller outpost for tourists when the locals are still eating mass market crap?

Lisa said...

"Every meal--good or bad, brings you closer to a better realization of what you want and why you cook."

This sums up even the life of home cooks, who are often brushed aside by mothers (and fathers) whose only connection to food is a can opener or a microwave. I have no aspirations to do what you do, having neither the balls nor the drive, but I expect a great deal from myself at my four-burner range and wall oven. I consistently challenge myself to try new ingredients and preparations simply because it gives me an insane amount of pleasure to put together something from scratch, from a recipe, or even from the slim pickings at the end of the week and present it to even the pickiest 4-year-olds and wary husband. Sometime I crash and burn; luckily, most times are a success.

This is precisely why I expect so much when I do get to dine out. I know what processed/prepackaged/fresh from the nuke food tastes like it and I will not accept it from an independent, supposedly esteemed restaurant. I should see the grill marks embedded in the meat, not painted on, and the vegetables--even though they may be conventional--should be in peak form. Crap like you ran into? Absolutely shameful.

Sorry to ramble. I really enjoyed this posting; it made this morning's coffee even better.


makingmybones said...

How Vegas became anything but Gambling, Stippers, free Booze, Coke, and losing your life to a guy named Paulie in a corn field is beyond me. Where'd the fun go?

Good blog as usual. G

jessajune said...

Even "never do this" inspiration has its place. All the same, I can't really be surprised that a resort in the desert (almost no local food to be had, I imagine) is focused more on the dollar than on a positive food experience.

Jeffrey - I used to have family in Vegas. I promise you, residents don't go anywhere near the strip. Most of them couldn't afford to, anyway.

monica. said...

i just stumbled on your blog but you've already made a faithful reader out of me. i loved this post and its nice to see some passion for something that you do. :]

Waleed said...

Whats with the Ramsay hate? He's more charming than he seems on the American shows. I mean, he was on Rachael Ray and didn't yell at her once....I couldn't do that.

ontheline89 said...

im in the getting to know your new knife phase. i just went from a 8" shun chefs to a 10.5" misono ux10. ive fallen in love.

spanish bombs said...

You are expecting local produce and meat in a desert?

Also, isn't quality assumed at a place/price like Guy Savoy? Presumably, they do not need to stoop to reassuring diners that they are serving the best ingredients available.

Richie said...

@spanish bombs: No, I would just like it if the food didnt suck. Why does it have to be this industrial/factory mentality? Why does that city have to reinforce everything thats wrong with food in America? And is Guy Savoy using the best ingredients, really?

The Humble Chef said...

Thank you for yet another great post. I must admit I ussually just skim posts most days but I really enjoyed this one.

Waleed said...

You cannot honestly expect Vegas to have a "Chef's mentality". Every single aspect is run by people with degrees to run casinos. The kitchen isn't run by a chef, it's run either by a recent college graduate with a degree in management and a "I am the fucking boss" mentality, or by a cutthroat pro who knows only how to make money and make it fast.

Neither of those seem like someone who cares if the food is even a little bit local.

These restaurants are run by people who think a steak and lobster dinner with cheesecake for dessert is the height of "fancy livin'".

ontheline89 said...

wait just because its vegas doesent mean your food has to come from god knows where. they of all people actually have the excess money to spend on organic produce and such. Not all of nevada is a desert. farms in Nevada grow all of the following which could be served at these big name restaurants ( grapes, strawberries, raspberries ,apples, pears, peaches, potato, onion, sweet corn, garlic, cantaloupe ,oil seed crops, carrots, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beef, lamb, pork, poultry, duck, rabbit, goat)

@spanishvbombs. yes, i am expecting local meat and produce in a desert.

"shouldnt quality be assumed " kinda makes me sigh.

Observational Gastrophysicist said...

I watched the "No Reservations" episode a while ago in which Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman go to Vegas, but I appreciate your unique perspective. With so much emphasis on searching for the "best" of something, it's possible to forget that inspiration can come even from "average" or "bad" dining experiences.

scallops said...

just a note:

Ryan Farr (con chicharrones) mentioned in yesterday's NY Times:


John Bowers said...

Bill Hicks and you might get along. If he were still alive.