Roots Rock

It’s all about the garnish! Chef Thomas Keller picks autumn’s awesome vegetable accompaniments

The valley’s modest window of autumn is celebrated in the dishes created by restaurants and chefs committed to seasonal cooking. For Bouchon chef-owner Thomas Keller, fall is all about the harvest.

“When I think about the fall, I think about Brussels sprouts, I think about beets, I think about mushrooms and hard squashes,” Keller says. “I think about onions, potatoes and sunchokes,” and that is reflected mainly in the seasonal garnishes that accompany Bouchon’s fairly static entrees. Why is that?

“A bistro menu has a lot of heritage,” Keller explains, “a lot of history and a lot of tradition, and I want to make sure that we’re maintaining a true connection to that heritage.”

As such, the menu at Bouchon in the Venetian always features standard bistro dishes such as the restaurant’s iconic roasted chicken, steak frites, mussels and leg of lamb, dishes that actually lend themselves to cool-weather dining.

The chefs of the three Bouchon outposts meet quarterly in Las Vegas to develop the menu for the upcoming season. Each chef is responsible for devising which seasonal ingredients will accompany those classics, based on what’s available and good in his or her region.

“They have parameters they need to work within, from a historical point of view, but within those parameters they can modify and change. Someone might be doing red rice, someone might be doing Provence squash, someone might be doing ratatouille … ”

The onslaught of pumpkin seems to be the unofficial ingredient that marks the arrival of autumn, but, Keller advises, be on the lookout for fall ingredients that tend to be heartier and starchier, such as onions, potatoes and parsnips. “We have a wonderful garden at The French Laundry, so we’re all about our vegetables,” Keller says of his flagship restaurant in Yountville, Calif.

Flavor profiles for fall dishes begin to deepen with warmer nuances such as cinnamon and clove, and herbs tend toward the earthier varieties, such as rosemary and sage.

“But,” Keller adds with an air of appropriate seriousness, “The roasted chicken is the roasted chicken in all the Bouchons.”

So this season, Bouchon Las Vegas presents Keller’s that roasted chicken with Brussels sprouts and parsnips. Leg of lamb is joined by red-wine poached pears and rutabaga and rosemary jus. Columbia River sturgeon gets the confit treatment, with a hearty accompaniment of roasted beets and wilted mustard greens on a bed of couscous.

“My ideal fall dish?” Keller pauses to consider which of the many he could choose as his personal favorite. “It could be the chicken, but again, it’s all about the garnishes.”

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There’s nothing worse than being behind the guy or gal in line at a buffet who scoops up the entire top layer of cheese with their spoonful of lasagna. How about finally spotting the beef and broccoli, only to find a heap of broccoli without a trace of beef, or walking up to the sushi bar for sad and soggy California rolls? All problems of the past.