I hate to break it to you, but Mario Batali isn’t in the kitchen at Carnevino grilling your steak. Nor is Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Speaking recently at a private dinner at his eponymous restaurant at Paris Las Vegas, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay mentioned that “People always ask me who’s cooking at my restaurants when I’m not there. And I always tell them, it’s the same people who are cooking when I am there.”
Most executive chefs who operate under a well-known chef—especially ones who have multiple restaurants—are akin to ghostwriters. The name that appears on the cover may have all the ideas and words, but someone else has to put it all on paper. This is what these chefs do. They take their boss’ ideas and execute them. In the process, many become great chefs in their own right. Here are seven with that potential in Las Vegas.
Jeremy Berlin, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Palace
Before coming to Las Vegas, Berlin last served as the executive chef of the highly praised Church & State in Los Angeles, but had worked for Gordon Ramsay in the years leading up to that. When he returned to work for the Hell’s Kitchen star in Las Vegas, he had to transition from his own fine-dining style to the upscale-casual menu, but no adjustment period was needed: “I’ve cooked for him for so long that I can make food that I know he would be proud to serve at any of his restaurants.”
A Ramsay takeaway: “Regardless of how he’s portrayed on TV sometimes, he’s one of the nicest guys you’re ever going to meet. I’ve learned that no matter if during service I get revved up or upset, once service is over, I’ll go out and have a beer with the cook I was just yelling at an hour ago.”
Nicole Brisson, Carnevino in the Palazzo
Coming from a restaurant family background, Brisson lived nearly two years in Italy, so Mario Batali’s simple style of Italian cuisine came naturally to her. One of the few woman executive chefs in Las Vegas, Brisson has spent the past 10 years learning the Batali way of doing things, and that includes how to adapt quickly, not to let your ego get in the way, and to keep it simple.
The Batali Way: “Now when I cook at home I find myself cooking very similar to the way Mario cooks. The flavor combinations and techniques I have learned I will use for the rest of my life in or out of work. He has also taught me that when you start out with great ingredients you don’t have to mess with it as much. Using a great olive oil and a great sea salt can make a dish. Simplicity is a wonderful thing and you don’t need to overthink it.”
Richard Camarota, Sage in Aria
The Chicago native first served as chef de cuisine at Shawn McClain’s Custom House in Chicago before landing at Sage. The two have worked closely together for a decade, and although McClain is definitely still involved, he allows Camarota nearly complete autonomy: “He’s a great sounding board … We give him ideas and thoughts and he helps take things to the next level.
Camarota’s imprint at Sage: “My background goes a little more Mediterranean; I push myself a little more there. I’ve done a lot of butchery work, too. So I try to be creative as far as the proteins that we’re using and different cuts and things of that nature to give the guests a little something different than what they’re expecting. If we’re going to do chicken, we’re going to do a little something different with it.”
Ben Jenkins, Michael Mina in Bellagio
The executive chef of Mina’s namesake restaurant was only 21 when he opened it in 1998 before making his way to other restaurants within the company. He found himself back at the helm of the Bellagio restaurant two years ago, and actively collaborates with Mina and the rest of the culinary team to keep pushing the boundaries of their cuisine.
Jenkins’ proudest dish: “It’s an old dish of Michael’s—the classic tuna foie, a crispy potato cake with spinach, mushrooms, and tuna and foie gras with a red-wine sauce. He came to me about a year ago—I don’t think he had it on a menu, for years and years—and he was like, ‘Ben, let’s reinvent this, let’s bring it back to light.’ There were people coming into this restaurant and asking for it, and we finally brought it back. We tweaked it and moved it forward, changed the setup and the presentation. … We tweaked everything to be for now instead of then.”
Jean Paul Labadie, Todd English PUB in Crystals at CityCenter
Labadie’s first stint in Las Vegas was with one of the first true celebrity chefs, Emeril Lagasse, at Table 10 in Palazzo. He left the Strip to spend more time with his family, working at local favorites Marché Bacchus and Garfield’s, but it was only a matter of time before he started craving the high volume of a big kitchen. He’s only been at Todd English PUB less than a year, but already we can find touches of his Puerto Rican background on the menu, such as in the new ropa vieja.
Size matters—bigger vs. smaller: “[There’s] a lot of money, a lot of support, infrastructure is usually pretty strong. I came from 2 smaller restaurants, [where if] you break a plate, and you think, ‘When am I going to get this plate back into rotation?’ It isn’t that we don’t care here, but the volume takes care of a lot of small issues that are easier to handle when you have this big umbrella with you. It’s a lot easier to do it with somebody else’s money. I’ve got to be careful, because it’s not my money, it’s not my restaurant. But I treat it as if it was.”
Rob Moore, Jean Georges Steakhouse in Aria
Want to find chef Moore’s imprint on the menu? Check out the beef program, which he calls his baby. He started it during his time at Bellagio and helped develop it for Jean Georges Steakhouse in Aria, and now the restaurant is one of few that carry true A5 Kobe beef imported from Japan, something impossible until very recently.
The Vongerichten learning curve: “I call it my doctorate program … At this point in our relationship, after 6½ years, I can give my opinion, or say [a dish] might need a little of this or a little of that. It’s not a hurtful concept, or challenging his authority, but it’s a great working relationship and he’s so open to everything. He just wants to please. I’m the same way; I want to put things on the menu that customers want. I get to serve hundreds of people a night with the best food that I could possibly put out there.”
Todd Sugimoto, Scarpetta in the Cosmopolitan
First the executive sous chef at Scott Conant’s D.O.C.G., Sugimoto became executive chef of both there and Conant’s Scarpetta late last year. Having done stints under Todd English, Bradley Ogden and Michael Mina, Sugimoto’s philosophy is the same as any chef worth his salt: “to use nicest, freshest ingredients that are available to me. I integrate that into any menu of any restaurants I’ve ever worked at.”
The Conant method: “Scott believes in fresh pasta. He doesn’t like dried pasta. I always thought there was nothing wrong with it, but Scott’s philosophy is that that is the best. That is the way to cook pasta. I’m kind of starting to lean toward that way myself. I think if you’re going to have pasta on the menu, it should be fresh. I’m definitely not as good as my pasta maker, but I can do it if I have to.”