Yvonne Maatouk has a lot on her plates these days. She continues her longtime role overseeing the kitchens of Strip party spots PBR Rock Bar and the Rockhouse. About six months ago, she was asked to create a menu for her boss Jonathan Fine’s latest off-Strip venue, PKWY Taphouse & Grill. And she’s now refining the menu at the Linq’s Chayo Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar. In a town where women are sadly under-recognized in the restaurant world, Maatouk’s position as corporate executive chef for Fine Entertainment makes her one of the most powerful women in the culinary community—even if her restaurants aren’t the type that generally draw critical attention.
“I don’t feel like one of the corporate, executive types,” Maatouk says, almost laughing at the phrase. “I think our company is a little different. It’s not so structured, and definitely not cookie-cutter. We have quite a few different things going on.”
Maatouk grew up in a culinary family. Her Egyptian-born father joined the merchant marines, “jumped ship” in New York and worked his way from dishwasher to line cook in various diners. He met his wife when she was working as a waitress on Long Island. They eventually moved to Florida and opened their own diner, where their daughter peeled potatoes and washed dishes.
After going to school for music education, the future chef realized that she couldn’t escape the restaurant world and enrolled in culinary school. Two weeks after graduation, at the age of 21, Maatouk took a job as a cook for the Armed Forces Recreation Center in Germany. She traveled around Europe, briefly returned to Florida, and finally accepted a position as a chef at a summer camp in Wisconsin, where she spent the first of two summers running her own kitchen for the first time.
“After I left there, I came to Vegas for the first time,” Maatouk says. “Why? I don’t know. I have no idea what possessed me to come to this side of the country!”
Her first local job was at the Golden Nugget, where she worked as a garde manger, preparing salads and other cold foods, returning briefly to Wisconsin for another summer. After repeating the role at the South Point, she became aware that women don’t always get the advancement opportunities they deserve in Las Vegas kitchens. “I knew I was never gonna have the opportunity to run a hot kitchen there,” she says of the resort.
So she headed to Colorado in 2009 to gain fine-dining experience. It meant taking a serious pay cut, but she felt it was her best opportunity for advancement. “To leave a job where I had a great salary and great benefits and go back to being a line cook for $10 to $12 an hour,” she says, “it was almost starting over with my career [in order] to change where I was.”
But the experience paid off. Upon returning to Las Vegas, Maatouk took a job cooking at the Hard Rock Hotel’s pool club. Shortly after being laid off, she met Fine and went on to run his growing culinary empire.
“I don’t know if there was any luck to it,” she says. “My work ethic got me to where I am.”
That work ethic inspires her daily to bread her own chicken fingers, smoke her own meats at both PBR and PKWY Tavern and temper authenticity with accessibility at Chayo, providing both beer-swilling tourists and locals relaxing after work with something that’s both good and affordable. It’s a balancing act that would frustrate some of this town’s best fine-dining chefs, but one Maatouk seems to have been born to do.