Radishes. Rhubarb. Rosemary. These are only three of a long list of fruits, vegetables and herbs that Scott Irestone, director of procurement for Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group and Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, grows in his personal garden in Las Vegas. “When we have baked sweet potatoes, I just walk outside and snip off some chives,” he says, and he notes that mint grows like crazy. The homegrown produce is apropos for the man who is tasked with shopping for the ingredients to support Puck’s vision of featuring local, seasonal ingredients.
When he started as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, Irestone planned on becoming a math teacher. While in his junior year of college, he left to follow his love of cooking and attended the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon. “I just walked in and was like, ‘I’m going to do that,” Irestone says.
He completed culinary school and was hired for an internship at Spago here in Las Vegas. Upon finishing, he became a full-time Wolfgang Puck employee, working in the back of the house. That was more than 20 years ago. During his time with Wolfgang Puck, Irestone has been a kitchen manager and sous chef at Postrio, an executive chef at Chinois, and he helped open 20.21 in Minnesota. When asked what it took to become the director of procurement, he’s frank: “Most chefs don’t want to do the business part of [restaurants].”
Overseeing the shopping list for Wolfgang Puck requires business acumen. Not only is Irestone seeking out the best seasonal ingredients, but he is also managing the logistics and a budget, which sometimes requires creativity. For example, a couple of years ago, he was working on a party for 400 people, and duck breasts were a featured dish. “The duck breasts just never made it on the plane,” Irestone remembers. “We found some veal to serve that night.”
As the seeker of the groceries, Irestone also is charged with finding local producers whenever possible. “One of the things that Wolfgang says is, ‘If we support local, local will support us.’ I just heard him say it at the governor’s black-tie event to a couple hundred people. It’s really important to him,” Irestone says. But sourcing locally grown ingredients in the desert can be tough. “We probably serve 4,000 people a day, and not everyone [can accommodate] that volume.”
Still, Irestone takes advantage of what is available. He worked with Blue Oasis Pure Shrimp, a local shrimp farm, before the operation shuttered, and when a chef comes to him with an ingredient request, he tries to think of what’s nearby. “Let’s say they want a specialty cheese. We have three companies here that are local that we deal with for our cheese program,” he says.
Irestone has purchased from Las Vegas Herbs, China Ranch Dates and Annsley Naturals Southwest, which supplies honey, but perhaps his biggest partner in produce is Olsen Farms. You won’t see the farm mentioned on a menu, but the Pahrump grower supplies microgreens for all six Wolfgang Puck restaurants in Las Vegas. “If we want something new, he’ll grow it for us. It just takes a month,” Irestone says.
When you ask him if he thinks people are crazy to believe that the desert can support eating locally, Irestone retorts: “Absolutely not—it’s going to be work.” He thinks that Gilcrease Orchard and farmers markets already provide good resources for folks who want to adopt a locavore diet, and he is hopeful that Urban Seed, a new indoor aeroponic urban farm in town, will provide more local options for chefs. He only has one concern about the farm: “I am just curious if I can get a Spago garden.”