We like to say that The Food Channel gives you a peak behind the curtain. On our pages, you’ll find food news and trends that don’t always make it to the usual consumer publications. We take you into the kitchens and to the places where great food is being created, not just eaten. And, as this trip proves, we introduce you to some of the most fascinating people in the world.
On Day 5 of our Raves & Faves restaurant tour of Las Vegas, we found people with really interesting “back stories.” They don’t come out easily—these are hospitable people who usually make it all about their customer, not about themselves. But sit down with them over a good meal, a drink, a newly-created dessert, and you can learn a lot. That’s one of the many things that has been great about this tour. We’re learning a lot.
For example, there is Certified Master Chef Gustav Mauler of Spiedini’s. Now, the American Culinary Federation’s designation of Master Chef is rare and hard-won. The Culinary Institute of America provides the testing and there are only 62 of them (plus 13 Master Pastry Chefs). And yet, seeing Master Chef Mauler get down to eye level with children as he teaches them to cook, you’d never know that they were being treated to such a rare gift.
He is one of the Las Vegas-area chefs who volunteers his time in the Chef for Kids program. This initiative of the Fraternity of Executive Chefs of Las Vegas works in conjunction with nutritionists from the University of Nevada to help address the needs of under-served school children. The chefs work with the schools to teach children about healthy food options, even preparing breakfast for the kids to demonstrate how good healthy food can taste.
And, his back story is one you might not expect. He’s Austrian-born, European-trained, and before opening his own restaurant worked for one of the Casino corporations, designing and opening some of America’s most famous restaurants, including those in the Bellagio.
Then there is Chef Kitti Sanderson, Culinary Service Specialist for U.S. Foodservice Las Vegas, sponsors of this leg of the tour. Oh, the things we’ve learned about her, including the chance to meet her son, Bobby (pictured at top with Chef Kitti and a friend, Emily).
She’s the president of the American Culinary Federation, and is responsible for developing new menu ideas, training and demonstrating new products, and keeping up on the latest food trends. She’s the type of chef whose day may start at a fancy casino hotel and end up at a convenience store checking out the hot dogs, all in the line of work. And, she has six kids and three grandkids. Now there’s a back story.
Or, take Peggy Orth, General Manager of Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge and Marcos Galvan, Executive Chef. Peggy’s worked there through many of the location’s 37 years—and has seen many of Las Vegas’ old landmarks torn down over those years. The Frontier, the Stardust, the Desert Inn. She knows the regulars, and they know her. Oh, and she has a new puppy, so next time you are in, be sure to check on his growth!
Marcos started at the Peppermill as a prep cook and moved himself up, going to culinary school along the way. He’s also passionate about the tradition of the Peppermill, and proud to be a part of its growth. “The menu was so small,” he says, “but now it goes to 150-200 items.” He’s kept many of the old standards, like the fruit salad in the picture, but added a few of his own creations as well. We’ll share how the pastrami burger came to life in a later story.
Finally—for today, anyway—there is the back story at Big Dog’s Draft House. We met the brewmaster, Dave Otto, a number of great patrons (thanks for the stories, Mama Bear), and Executive Chef Sergio Meza. Who would have thought that the Wisconsin-style bar food served in his niche pub would come from Mexico City? The short story is that he met his Wisconsin-born wife while she worked at the American Embassy in Mexico City, married her, found themselves in Las Vegas, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, he and Dave work together to pair food with beer, offering some pretty amazing sensory experiences. Hint: His new Dark Chocolate Dulce de Leche Bread Pudding paired with a Black Lab Stout. It’s not even on the menu yet, but just wait!
Lots and lots of stories, passions and food. Yes, it’s still about the food—that’s a given. But, increasingly as this tour progresses, it’s about the people who bring you the food. They’ve invited us into their kitchens, shown us their secret ingredients, and joined us for a wrap party at the end of the day. Each of these chefs tell us that what makes their restaurant special is the people, and that’s undoubtedly part of the story. But when you get the back story, you know that some of the most interesting stories are found when you get that peak behind the curtain.
This series is part of our Raves & Faves restaurant tour of Las Vegas, sponsored by U.S. Foodservice Vegas as part of its commitment to local restaurants. Follow us on Twitter to find out where we’ll be each day!