Somms in the Kitchen, Chefs in the Caves

Photo by Jakrapan Atcharawan

Photo by Jakrapan Atcharawan

Wine and food go together so naturally. Are there any sommeliers in the kitchens of
Las Vegas restaurants?

The relationship between head chef and sommelier is a special one. As lead sommelier at Cut in the Palazzo, I can just look at my chef and know what is going through his mind. Discussing the way a dish is prepared, arguing over courses and sampling pairings only leads to a chef’s nose in the glass and a sommelier’s hand on the knife.

Walking into Chada Thai & Wine (3400 S. Jones Blvd., 641-1345) guests will find chef-owner-sommelier Bank Atcharawan either discussing grand cru vintages at the table or, like the Great and Powerful Oz, cooking behind the curtain.

Since Chada Thai’s opening two years ago, Atcharawan has been named 2013’s Sommelier of the Year by Food & Wine, a Rising Star Chef by the Silver State Awards, and Chada Thai was named a top place to eat and drink in Las Vegas by Bon Appétit.

So, what comes first for Atcharawan, the glass or the knife? “A couple of years ago, there’s no doubt in my mind that the answer would have been wine. Nowadays, as I spend most of my time in the kitchen, my perspective has changed a bit. I have much more respect for food. The amount of work required to make one perfect dish is beyond what anyone who has ever cooked professionally can imagine,” he says.

Atcharawan began to establish his place in the Las Vegas wine and food landscape while he was the general manager and wine director for his family’s world-renowned restaurant, Lotus of Siam. Since then, Atcharawan has harnessed his passions and experiences to make Chada Thai & Wine a meeting ground for Las Vegas’ food-and-beverage community. The scene on any given night at Chada Thai is sure to be full of winemakers, sommeliers and chefs indulging in Atcharawan’s delicious dishes and exceptional wine list with 250 selections.

“I look up to one of the earliest people who steered me into wine, master sommelier Steven Geddes, who himself made the transition from sommelier to full-time chef. The first glass of riesling I served him was—if I’m not mistaken—a 1989 Langwerth von Simmern Riesling Auslese Erbacher Marcobrunn,” Atcharawan says. “I presented it to him blind, and he guessed correct. This is why I love riesling.” At present, 60 of Atcharawan’s selections are German riesling.

As a role model, it doesn’t get better than Geddes, who retains the honor as the only working chef in the United States to simultaneously hold the title of master sommelier. At the age of 17, Geddes began cooking alongside André Rochat at Las Vegas landmark Andre’s Downtown. The opportunity launched him into working in other celebrity chef kitchens and wine cellars in the U.S. Currently, Geddes is director of operations for Charlie Palmer Group, which has the chef’s eponymous steakhouse in the Four Seasons Las Vegas.

The sommelier community continues to cook and drink together, always inspiring each other to think outside the box. Atcharawan is masterfully following in Geddes’ footsteps, paving a path for the next generation of sommeliers in the kitchen and chefs in the wine caves. To be proficient in either career is impressive, but to accomplish both … well, that just signals a higher lever of gastronomic consciousness.