If you’ve been to a music festival recently, especially in Las Vegas, you know that food is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the experience. Wolfgang Puck catered the VIP area at the recent Rock in Rio festival, while Life Is Beautiful boasts a star-studded lineup of celebrity chefs. So it’s no surprise that the organizers of EDC have chosen to take the show’s culinary offerings very, very seriously.
“Food is important, because people at EDC spend a lot of time there,” says Tao Group managing partner Jason Strauss, whose company will host the VIP cabanas. “They get there at 9 p.m., and some don’t leave until 4 or 5 in the morning. So to have food there to refuel and get to experience all those hours of such a content-rich festival is an amazing amenity, and we think it’s an important component.”
To feed Marquee Nightclub’s VIP guests, as well as revelers on the VIP Dining Deck and the Cafe Deck, Insomniac for the second year in a row is turning to chef Keven Alan Lee and his Sherman Oaks, California-based catering company, My World on a Plate. For his part, Lee is certainly embracing the challenge and the spirit of the event. VIP Deck menu items include multicolored crusted spicy tuna rolls, jumbo wagyu meatballs and hypnotic “cloud” tacos on bao buns. Bottle-service customers in Marquee’s section will be offered extravagant platters of sushi and assorted fruit. And fans who want to recharge after hours of dancing will be able to order smoothies with popping boba and protein powder.
“[This food] is what people want at a carnival,” Lee says of his creations. “This is a carnival. But at the same time, these are the VIPs, and they want to be treated that way. They’re in a different type of world.”
Lee knows a little something about pleasing a well-heeled crowd. His company regularly has catered high-end food festivals, private parties and VIP events, including a party hosted by Elon Musk and a camp of billionaires—please don’t call them millionaires; the chef will correct you—at Burning Man.
VEGAS ROOTS, INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCES
Lee’s food wasn’t always so lofty. His culinary career, which started here in Las Vegas, had a humble beginning.
The chef’s family moved to the Valley in 1994, when he was 16 years old. “I found myself in Vegas, [and] I found what I really wanted to do,” he recalls of his teen years. “And that was culinary arts. I was looking for something to occupy my free time instead of just getting in trouble—which was easy to do in Vegas.”
Early restaurant jobs included stints at Panda Express and Port of Subs. At 18, he landed a job at the brand-new Top of the World at the Stratosphere, and after a year at Community College of Southern Nevada, he traveled to Israel for a one-year chef program. Upon returning to the U.S., Lee attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, during which time he returned to Las Vegas for an externship at the Rio. For six months in 1998, he split his time between all of the resort’s restaurants, including Jean-Louis Palladin’s Napa. “My best friend Alon [Shaya] and I just rocked the hell out of that hotel,” he says. “We did everything!”
After graduating from the Culinary Institute in 1999, Lee spent time in Switzerland studying desserts and cooking in a Michelin-starred kitchen. Following a stint in San Diego, he returned to Las Vegas in 2002, where he put in more time at the Rio, as well as at Lutèce at the Venetian and La Chandelle at Lake Las Vegas before helming Reflection Bay at Lake Las Vegas and finally Trumpets in Sun City Anthem.
Armed with a wealth of experience, Lee then headed to California to tackle high-profile catering, forming My World on a Plate with his sister, Robyn.
FEEDING VEGAS’ BIGGEST PARTY
Lee believes his diverse career perfectly prepared him for the unique menu demands of a festival like EDC. “The food [at EDC] is visually and texturally exciting,” he says. “And finding the aesthetics to make that food pop is what I know how to do. With my world cuisine, with my international training, with my vast exposure, I know how to make food pop.”
True as that may be, there’s one thing for which he wasn’t prepared: The unique challenges of the festival’s environment. “You can’t hear a goddamn thing,” he says. “So when I’m in service and I’m calling out orders to my guys, they can’t hear me. I’m screaming all night long.” Making matters worse, last year’s kitchen was set up facing the sun. As a result, the semi-deafened team also had to deal with glare and heat. To eliminate that problem, Lee and the folks at Insomniac engaged computer programs that track the sun’s path, and they planned this year’s kitchen’s location accordingly.
Despite the challenges, Lee believes his team “successfully delivered last year on a culinary level.” Strauss concurs: “The quality of food, the level of service and the way he was able to set up a satellite operation and still deliver the food he’s known for outside of EDC was just amazing.”
Now with a year under their toques, Lee and his team are raring to go for Round 2. Despite the hard work, the unusual atmosphere and the unique demands, he’s been careful to choose a 10-person kitchen staff that can deliver the goods while also enjoying the massive party. “My philosophy in these environments is one foot in the party and two feet at work,” he says. “Have fun. Get in there. Know where you are. You’ve got to be able to understand the music and what’s going on out there, and have fun with it.”
And as the chef and his staff engage in that three-footed dance, they’ll supply the fuel to keep you moving all night long.