Chef Tori Nakano wants to bring something new to the local culinary community. She and her partner, Chris Staefe, are trying to establish a resource for chefs who need space to work on independent projects. The Vegas Kitchen Collective is still in the development stage, but they are aiming for four fully equipped kitchens, walk-in cold and dry storage, a fully functioning demonstration kitchen and an environment that promotes “interactivity and interaction between local and visiting chefs, yet allows the functional autonomy for those who desire privacy.” In other words, nearly everything chefs need to launch, say, their own product line.
It’s an ambitious idea, but, Nakano explains, “that’s kind of what I get myself into.” And looking back on her diverse career, her ability to handle challenges has been clearly demonstrated. In Arizona, Nakano worked with renowned chefs, including Alex Stratta and Christopher Gross. After meeting her former husband, they moved to Boulder, Colorado, together to run the kitchen for a restaurant called Red Fish Brewhouse. There she began in the kitchen, but moved to a bookkeeping position when she got pregnant. She also lived in New York, where she was part owner of a catering company. After relocating to Las Vegas in 2001, Nakano worked as executive chef at a Whole Foods, as executive chef and culinary director for the Creative Cooking School and as a personal chef before buying skateboard park Skatecity to support and encourage her son, who is now a professional skater. And she also works as a nutritional therapy practitioner and wellness coach.
So where did the idea for Nakano’s next venture originate? “It started when I was trying to develop packaged foods for sale,” she says. “We looked around town to see if there was somewhere we could actually do this production without actually having to build our own kitchen, which is quite expensive. And we found a couple of places in town, but they were kind of lacking. So we said, ‘Hey, we can do this ourselves and do it a lot better. And we can make our products, but we can also bring something to the community that’s needed.”
When and if Vegas Cooking Collective launches, Nakano insists it will not cater to casino chefs. Instead, it will be aimed at experienced chefs looking to expand and open their own businesses—catering, packaged foods, pop-up dinners or any other independent endeavors. “There’s no place where they can go to find a community of other chefs who meet their needs without having to build their own,” she says.
The group has a business plan in place but is still raising funds (with some investors already on board). They’re also looking for the right location.
Finally, Nakano and Staefe are seeking feedback from local chefs to gauge the interest level and ascertain needs. “What we would like,” Nakano says, “is to hear from people about how much they want to do this. How excited are they? Would they want something like this? That’s how the community can help us.” Along those lines, they’ve set up a website, VegasKitchenCollective.com, which has a three-question survey.
Delays and disappointments are commonplace in the culinary world, but, Nakano says, the project is “six to eight months out.”
The collective could be a boon to the local culinary community, which has made giant strides in recent years, thanks to a small but growing group of innovative chefs willing to think outside the box.