In 2003, before Bobby Flay or Guy Savoy set up shop in Caesars Palace, there was Bradley Ogden. The Las Vegas outpost would be the first with Ogden’s name on the door, and would usher in a new generation of celebrity-chef-driven restaurants.
On June 29, the place that introduced farm-to-table cuisine to the desert announced that it would be shutting its doors on Aug. 5. (It’s widely speculated that this makes way for the second effort from a new, decidedly different breed of celebrity chef: Gordon Ramsay.) But 10 years is a lifetime in an industry where many don’t make it past the first year, and when Bradley Ogden shuts its doors, it’ll leave behind a legacy of great cuisine and talented chefs that all got their start in a one-of-a-kind kitchen.
In the end, you tend to think about the beginning. In Bradley Ogden’s case, it all began with team of young guns at the helm, led by Ogden’s own son, Bryan, as chef de cuisine. He, along with the other fresh-faced, recent Culinary Institute of America grads would begin their careers at a very exciting time not only in Las Vegas restaurant history, but as dining trends such as haute cuisine and molecular gastronomy were at their peak.
“The amount of attention and the expectations were at a high level,” Bradley says. But all those expectations were exceeded when the James Beard Foundation selected Bradley Ogden as Best New Restaurant in 2004, the first outside of New York, and the first ever Beard Award for Las Vegas.
For Bryan, opening that restaurant was more about the experience than the accolades, something he wanted to share with his fellow cooks. “We wanted our chefs when they moved on from their experience with us to say, ‘Those was the best years I’ve spent in the kitchen. I learned more there than any other restaurant I have worked in.’ The biggest compliment is when young cooks move on and take on new challenges and bigger responsibilities.
“But,” he adds, “I am not going to lie. The James Beard Award was an amazing accomplishment, but that was never a goal.”
Adam Sobel is a perfect example of how this kitchen cultivated talent. Now an executive chef himself, Sobel was a sous chef on the opening crew, and he has the stories to prove it. From the many nights without sleep to how the famed Bradley Ogden burger was born thanks to A5 Wagyu scraps, Sobel knew he was part of something special.
“The three-and-a-half years I spent in that restaurant were the most important years of my career,” he says. “It shaped me, and allowed me to experiment and figure out what kind of chef I wanted to be. I got to work in a kitchen of the highest level with my best friends and a dear mentor. Even though we put in a ton of hours and really worked our asses off, it never felt like work to us because we really enjoyed it.”
If there’s one dish that symbolizes the closing of Bradley Ogden, it’s the butterscotch pudding. The demitasse of creamy pudding, made from Bradley’s mother’s recipe, signified the sweet finish to a multicourse adventure through innovative contemporary American cuisine. But he gives us a little hope.
“We’re still looking at reestablishing ourselves [in Las Vegas],” he admits. “We have four to five [spots] in mind. Not quite as high-end, something a little more approachable, fun and entertaining.”
So, this may not be the end, but yet another beginning.