Jacques Van Staden
Top of the Palms Casino Resort
4321 W. Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 89103
(702) 951-7000


Amy Tarr: Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
Jacques Van Staden: I remember cooking with my mother vividly. I’d stand on a little chair making meatballs and pastas.

AT: Having attended culinary school at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
JVS: It’s nice to have it but not necessary. It’s also good to have some experience. I have kids who come out of school and they are useless. My top kids are 20-21 and left school half way through. They came here and said, “Chef, I’ve learned more from you in 3 days.” Give me great attitude, no experience, and I’ll turn you into something good.

AT: Can you talk about your mentors?
JVS: My primary mentor was Jean Louis Palladin – the way he screamed and drilled it into us. He was honestly the person who got me to the point where I understand food. Food talks back to me. It tells me how it wants to be cooked and cut and handled. God, it was the toughest job of my life working under that man! Nobody was like Jean Louis. After you work with Jean Louis, you are untouchable. Nothing can faze you. I’ll never trade it for anything in the world. Never.

AT: How has your cooking evolved from Jean Louis?
JVS: I hate the ordinary. So many people stay within the box and stick to things they feel comfortable with. This is Las Vegas – as much as it’s changed even in 5 years, still you cannot give sardines away! So what you need to do with food here is to use ingredients that are both familiar and unfamiliar and use them at the same time. Like tuna tartare with watermelon. What helps, too, is the service. They call me the “golden goose” here! If I make something, they can sell it. The only challenge they could not sell was the sardines.

AT: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
JVS: My whole life I wanted to be like a Picasso or Michelangelo, but cooking is a really a business. You can be a starving artist, but a starving chef? Always treat food with respect. Even if you do staff meal you’ve got to respect the food, you have to cook with pride and joy. But there is a line with food. The more you touch the food, you take away its simplicity and you make it into something else. It’s like having 20 facelifts. A lot of people forget the real truth about what the dish is about.

AT: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
JVS: Crunchy stuff! America’s favorite food is crunchy stuff. With foie I use rice crackers. With caviar I use crispy masagu - it looks like a dried rice ball. It’s the same size as the caviar, so I serve it on top of the caviar. Also dana dhal – dried lentils, and crunchy chor (crispy chickpeas).

AT: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
JVS: A tilting skillet or brazier– it’s so much easier to sauté or reduce things in. They keep the heat so whatever you make, you can do a bunch of stuff at one time. When you make a tagine it sears the meat perfectly, everything cooks at the same time, equally. For osso buco – I can put in 4 or 5 pieces – don’t have to mix and match flavors.

AT: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
JVS: I like to wrap fish in plastic and roll it to make medallions. Cooking is like poetry. There’s always a thief. We steal from each other, but how well do you apply it? I always incorporate texture, crunchiness. That’s what really sets it apart from your ordinary dish.

AT: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
JVS: Are you sure you want to do this? Why do you want to get into this business? From the answer I can tell immediately whether this guy is going to make it. If they say cooking is fun, I know they are not going to make it. It’s fun to cook for your friends. Cooking is hell. If you can survive hell, then it becomes fun again. The failure rate of restaurants is 75% - that’s the failure rate of culinary students as well. It takes 10-15 years of suffering just getting there. It’s your attitude and passion that gets you there.

AT: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
JVS: Make sure you are passionate about this. Passion conquers all in this industry. If you do it for the money and the fame, there are much easier ways to get there.

AT: What are your favorite cookbooks?
JVS: Jean Louis’ book . Elements from Gray Kunz. Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook for the techniques. Daniel Boulud’s cookbooks. Alain Ducasse with Frederick Labon’s pastry cookbook. El Bulli is phenomenal. Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s books -there’s simplicity but it’s also very intricate. Marco Pierre White– growing up in South Africa, it was the first cookbook I ever got. I wanted to work for him so bad!

AT: What are your favorite restaurants in your city?
JVS: March Bacchus for lunch, brunch or dinner. It’s run by this couple and they are phenomenal – they do very simple stuff. You feel like you’re in France. It’s near the lake, it’s gorgeous. You’d never know you were in Las Vegas. Also Tuscany Grill – it’s an Italian place, has a huge menu, but good food.

AT: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
JVS: With new techniques and equipment, the trend is you’ve got to be different than the next person. I believe you can be different. Little gadgets are also trendy, like how Michael Mina uses the coffee press to do the broth of the shellfish and filter out the shells.

AT: Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
JVS: Our next place is going to be huge, a new trendsetter. Our goal is open 25 of this concept in the next five years, all over the country. It will be very casual, very sexy. I’m getting to the point where I’m businessman and a chef. I want to take our concepts and put them out there. At some point you need to make a decision how much do you want to be in the kitchen. My forte is concept development. I love to do it.

Jacques Van Staden
ALIZÉ | Las Vegas

South African-born Jacques Van Staden sold his car after graduating from high school in order to pay the airfare to the US and pursue a culinary career. He boasts a stellar pedigree, having trained with legendary chefs Jean Louis Palladin, Gray Kunz, and Michel Richard before teaming up with Las Vegas star chef André Rochat. Palladin’s influence on Van Staden is unmistakable – both on the plate and in his demeanor. Jacques’ vivacious spirit is infectious and distinctly reminiscent of Palladin’s. And like the late great chef, Van Staden listens to food, thoughtfully contemplating how it wants to be cooked, cut and handled. “Food needs true love, passionate love,” Van Staden says. And we just can’t get enough of his food lovin’.


Roasted Muscovy Duck Breast with Almond Toast, Spice Roasted Duck Leg
Chef Jacques Van Staden of Alizé at the Top of the Palms Casino
– Las Vegas, NV
Adapted by StarChefs.com

Yield: 4 Servings


    Duck Jus:
  • Scraps from 4 whole duck bodies
  • 2 Spanish onions, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 5 cups red wine
  • 1 gallon chicken stock
  • 2 cups demi-glace
  • 1 cup Minus 8 vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
    Roasted Duck Legs:
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon 5-spice powder
  • 4 duck legs
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 pat butter
  • 1 Tablespoon fines herbes
    Duck Breast:
  • 2 whole ducks, quartered
  • Salt and pepper to taste
    Braised Rhubarb:
  • 4 rhubarb stalks
  • 2 cups grenadine
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
    Watercress Salad:
  • 2 cups watercress leaves
  • ½ cup friseé
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
    Fava Beans:
  • 1 cup fava beans, cooked and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons fines herbes
    Almond Toast:
  • 4 slices brioche
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 Tablespoon 5-spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup sliced almonds, broken up
  • 1 pat butter
  • 2 Tablespoons ginger, peeled and diced
  • 2 Tablespoons rock salt

For Duck Jus:

In a hot stock pot sauté the duck scraps until dark brown, without burning. Add onions and garlic, and caramelize. Then add tomatoes and carrots, cooking to brown. Deglaze with the red wine, add cinnamon and thyme, and reduce by half. Cover the duck scraps with the chicken stock and demi-glace, and simmer over very low heat for 3 hours. Strain the bones through a china cap into another pot, add Minus 8 vinegar and reduce the sauce to a syrup consistency. Strain the sauce through a fine chinoise. Season to taste with ground black pepper, and set aside until ready to use.

For Duck Legs:
Set oven to 375° F. Using a mortar and pestle, ground together the salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, sugar, bay leaves, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder and 5-spice and sift into a mixing bowl. Rub the duck legs all over with the spice mixture and make sure meat is well covered with the spices. Place the legs in a small roasting pan and cook in oven for 30 minutes, or until duck legs are tender and the skin is crispy.

Once the legs are cooked, remove and let sit for a couple of minutes. Pick meat off the bone and chop up. Heat the shallots in a sauté pan with sugar to caramelize them. Sweat the caramelized shallots in a pan with a little butter, add the chopped duck leg, and season with remaining spice mixture. Once the duck leg is hot, mix in the fines herbes, remove from heat, and set aside for assembly and serving.

For Duck Breast:
Preheat oven to 375° F. Using a boning knife, remove duck breasts and legs from carcasses and place breasts and legs in separate containers. Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper and cook in a medium-hot pan, skin side down first for about 8-10 minutes until the skin is crispy. When skin is crispy, turn over and place in the oven for 4 minutes to finish cooking. Remove from oven and let cool for 2 minutes. Slice the duck breast across the grain in thin slices and pat dry any excess blood. Set aside for assembly and serving.

For Braised Rhubarb:
Preheat oven to 300° F. Peel the "stringy" outer skin off the rhubarb and cut both ends. Place rhubarb in a deep baking pan, pour grenadine over it and sprinkle with sugar. Cook in oven for 10 minutes or until tender. Once the rhubarb has cooled down, cut lengthwise in about ½-inch thick slices to form ribbon-like strips. To prepare a syrup for the rhubarb, use the grenadine the rhubarb was cooked in, strain and reduce in a small pot until a syrup consistency. Chill and place in squeeze bottle for assembly and serving.

For Watercress Salad:
Clean watercress and friseé by rinsing under cold water and spinning in a salad spinner. Remove from spinner, toss with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt, and set aside for assembly and serving.

For Fava Beans:
Chop up fava beans into small pieces and toss with olive oil. Add fines herbes to the fava beans, toss, and reserve for assembly and serving.

For Almond Toast:
Set oven to 300° F. Slice brioche about 4-inches long and 2-inches wide. In a shallow dish, whisk egg, milk, 5-spice and sugar together. Pour almond slices into a shallow, flat dish. Dip bread into egg mixture, then into the almond slices, pressing slightly to coat each side. Heat a sauté pan to medium heat, add butter, and brown brioche on one side. Flip over and finish cooking in oven for 5-10 minutes.

To Assemble and Serve:
Place the cut rhubarb ribbon on the inside of a 3-inch mold so it is lined neatly. Place the warm duck leg mixture in the ring so that the rhubarb is on the outside. Press down so that the mixture is firm. Once the leg mixture is tight in the mold, spoon the fava beans over the leg mixture and spread out so that the beans cover the top of the mixture. Carefully remove the ring mold. The chopped duck legs should be wrapped with the rhubarb and covered on top with the fava beans. Place the browned almond toast on one side of plate, and arrange the watercress and frisee mix neatly on top of the toast. Lay out the sliced duck breast over the greens and toast and sprinkle the diced ginger and rock salt over the duck breast. Place five dollops of the reduced grenadine syrup around the duck leg. Spoon the duck jus around the duck breast and serve

   Published: August 2005