Martin Heierling
Bellagio Spa Tower
3600 Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 693-8546


Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Martin Heierling:
I enjoyed watching the Love Boat on TV and I fell in love with the idea of traveling around the world as a cook on a boat. And I did just that. I went to work for the Saudi Arabian Royal family.

AB: You completed a three-year apprenticeship in Heidelberg, Germany as your initial education in the culinary field. How do you feel this experience helped develop your culinary skills compared to attending a school instead? Would you recommend one over the other to aspiring chefs today?
MH: I’m a tradesman. Culinary school is not academic training. I think the old-fashioned European way of a trades program is the only way to go. It teaches you not only the skills but also how to work with other people. They are the skills you need for life. I live off the cooking schools. They supply me great talent – just different.

AB: Can you talk about working with Chef Gray Kunz?
MH: From Gray I learned absolute professionalism, discipline, standards and structure. I learned to ask why. Everything has a reason. You need to know the details.

AB: Your approach to cooking appears to be ingredient-driven dishes, eschewing overwrought drama for elegant simplicity. How has this philosophy worked itself into the menu at Sensi?
MH: I don’t do too much with the ingredients – if you have great ingredients, why muck around with it? Presentation is a different story. That I like to play around with. I don’t want to come up with the craziest things. It’s not what I’m about or enjoy.

AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
MH: Candlenuts I use in all my spice paste. Tamarind in sauces – it has a naturally acidic, sour flavor. I use tamarind water as a base for everything. Also ginger, there’s so much to do with it, and pandan leaves – they have a nutty flavor.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
MH: My Gray Kunz spoon – it’s sentimental.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
MH: Savory-filled cones. It developed from my pastry training. It’s not a tuille like Keller does, but an ice cream waffle cone.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
MH: When are you going to do a stage? That is a requirement. How do you think you did today (during their trail)?

AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
MH: Be humble, find somebody that takes an interest in you. If you are lucky enough to find someone who takes interest in you, make sure you give back.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
MH: David Thompson’s book on Thai Cooking. Also Tetsuya Wakuda. I think he’s amazing. I love this attention to detail, his philosophy in making every plate. His book is great.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
MH: China – Shanghai is the new center of the Far East. Singapore is an amazing culinary center. Malaysia, Indonesia, Indian street food

AB: What are your favorite restaurants in your city?
MH: Joyful House – for traditional Cantonese - it’s open until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
MH: My next step is pursuing a partnership with MGM. A new project, where I’m the owner/partner. I want to be a multi-unit operator with 2-3 units. Not too big. Another high-volume restaurant and a fine dining restaurant.

Martin Heierling
SENSI | Las Vegas

Martin Heierling’s culinary wanderlust has taken him across the globe and back again. Born in Heidelberg, Germany, he grew up in Auckland, New Zealand and identified early on the culinary arts as his calling. Heierling returned to Germany to apprentice in top kitchens. Positions in Zurich, St. Moritz and Auckland followed, punctuated by a tour in the German Navy, and even a stint cooking aboard the Royal Yacht Lady Moura. Hungry for a four-star cooking experience in New York, he contacted Gray Kunz at Lespinasse, who not only hired the young cook, but also became his most influential mentor. Most recently, Heierling has ventured to Las Vegas to open Sensi at the Bellagio, a restaurant most suited to his background with its menu that represents an international crossroads.


Halibut with Pickled Onions, Baby Chorogi , Barolo Reduction
Chef Martin Heierling of Sensi at the Bellagio Resort & Casino
– Las Vegas, NV
Adapted by

Chorogi, also known as Chinese or Japanese artichoke, is a native plant of China and Japan. It has a hairy surface and sweet, nutty flavor. Chorogi are hard to come by in the United States but can be found in specialty Asian markets. When purchased, chorogi should be firm and white, and can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for a week.

Yield: 4 Servings


    Pickled Onion:
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled
  • 2 cups distilled vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
    Barolo Reduction:
  • 3 cups Barolo red wine
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon brandy
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon cold butter, diced
    Baby Chorogi:
  • ½ cup smoked speck lardons, blanched
  • ¼ cup red onion, finely diced
  • ¼ cup Yukon Gold potato, diced and blanched
  • 1 cup baby chorogi
  • ½ cup leek cut, roughly chopped
  • Salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste
  • 1 pound halibut cheeks, cleaned
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 pat cold butter, cubed
  • ½ cup heirloom tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Shaved raw garlic
  • Thyme buds
For Pickled Onion:

Finely shave the onion using a mandoline. Pour vinegar and sugar into a sauce pot, bring to a boil, and add the spices. Drop the shaved onion into the hot pickling liquid, bring back to a boil and remove from heat. Allow to cool down in the liquid and set aside.

For Barolo Reduction:
Reduce the wine to a ½ cup. Balance the reduction with sugar, brandy, cayenne and black pepper. Whisk in cold butter until thick and shiny.

For Chorogi:
Start rendering the blanched speck lardons in a cold sauté pan over medium - heat until the lard has drawn out. Increase the heat to high and add diced onion together with potatoes and chorogi. Caramellize evenly in the pan and add the leek at the end. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

For Halibut Cheeks:
Season the halibut with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Heat olive oil in a heavy pan until very hot and roast the halibut, turning often. Cook to medium and finish in the pan with the thyme buds and cold butter, turning it into a beurre noisette.

For Garnish:
Mix the chopped heirloom tomatoes with the olive oil, sea salt, and a few slices of raw garlic, making it into small salad.

To Assemble and Serve:
Spoon the baby chorogi onto the center of the plate and set the roasted halilbut cheeks on top. Drizzle the Barolo reduction around the plate and garnish the halibut with the heirloom tomato salad and pickled onions. Sprinkle with fresh thyme buds and serve.

   Published: August 2005