Diamond of the Kitchen

Guy Savoy protégé Mathieu Chartron leads one of Las Vegas’ top French kitchens; someday his family’s truffle legacy will lead him home.

Running a hot kitchen that puts out precise haute cuisine bearing the name of a famous French chef is enough to make anyone age prematurely. So one would think that the chef running the kitchen at Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace would be a foreboding figure, maybe a little gray at his temples, with his brow permanently furrowed, rather than the fresh-faced, 24-year-old Mathieu Chartron.

At all of 19 years old, Chartron began his tutelage under French master chef Guy Savoy in Paris. Five years later, he finds himself an executive chef, and the youngest head of a kitchen on the Strip, following the scent of his family’s legacy with the black truffle.

Chartron and I are sitting in the patio of Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace before the restaurant opens, before the bread cart roams around the room, before one drop of artichoke black truffle soup reaches a guest’s lips. It’s quiet, and sunlight streams through the windows, calm before the storm. He’s quiet as well. Chartron is a man of few words (in English, anyway) but his face reflects the serenity of the room, looking refreshed as he has just returned from a culinary adventure. As is the life of a chef, he made a stop in New York to eat his way around the city, then headed home to France, like so many of the staff from Guy Savoy do each summer break.

Home for Chartron is a small town of about 4,000 people south of Lyon, where his family owns a fine-dining restaurant, Chartron, and the specialty is truffles. His father is the chef, while his mother handles front of the house. “We have a black truffle farm, and sometimes we take people out to pick truffles with the dogs.” Perhaps this lifelong relationship with truffles is what would eventually lead him to work for Savoy in Paris, where he would learn the beauty of Savoy’s signature artichoke black truffle soup. After finishing culinary school in Grenoble, Chartron moved to Paris where he spent some time at the three-Michelin-star restaurant Le Meurice, before finding himself at Guy Savoy Paris. Chartron quickly worked his way up from hot appetizers, to entremet, eventually to fish and meat.

Yes, there is a lot of pressure involved with working under such a highly regarded chef. “Everything we sell to our guests has to be perfect,” Chartron says. It would only be a year before Savoy would ask Chartron if he wanted to go to Las Vegas.

Now at the helm of the kitchen in Las Vegas, Chartron is taking this opportunity to soak up every bit of knowledge about not only cuisine, but the day-to-day operations of running a successful restaurant. Guy Savoy, as a restaurant empire, is really a family-run outfit, so there are many lessons that Chartron can appreciate. Maintaining a tight-knit, close staff, and continuously building relationships with guests are two integral teachings that he has garnered from Savoy. Eventually he will return home to run his family’s restaurant, and it is this experience that he will take back with him.

Chartron tells me a little bit about truffles. Even though there are no major differences between the truffles from his hometown and those grown in, say, Australia, no two truffles are exactly alike. “You can find two truffles in the same hole, one next to the other,” he explains, “and they are not going to have the same flavor. There’s always a little difference.” But certainly, like truffles, there have to be some subtle differences between the two restaurants? Maybe just the dining room, Chartron concedes, the Eiffel Tower of Paris Las Vegas looming over his shoulder behind him. “I came here to give Las Vegas the same ambience as Guy Savoy Paris. I think we’re pretty close.”

Chef’s pick of the season

Though some dishes, including the artichoke black truffle soup and the sea bass, are menu mainstays, it’s the seasonal dishes such as the John Dory, with its summer flavors, that are a favorite for Chartron. It has a basil crust, and is garnished with smoked eggplant espuma and tomato confit, caper berries and baby eggplants a la plancha.