Chef Gerald Chin
PiPS Cucina & Wine Bar | Las Vegas
Gerald Chin thinks cooking was built into him – practically in his DNA. His mother is Portuguese and his father Chinese. Both cultures’ strong relationships with food, and the family traditions on both sides of large family meals, just got under his skin. “It was in my blood, I guess” he quips.
Chin took to pursuing cooking at an early age: he spent two years of high school at a vocational school studying culinary arts and then continued his education at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. A stage at Judson Grill in New York City opened Chin’s eyes to the vibrancy of farm-fresh products. Chin quickly moved into the city to have access to the products he was introduced to at Judson Grill. He worked at Tavern on the Green and then was hired as chef de partie at Judson Grill.
A stint in Europe at the Michelin-starred Geneva Intercontinental Hotel gave Chin further props to assume more responsibility back in the States; he moved to Las Vegas and joined the Bradley Odgen kitchen in Caesars Palace as Chef de Cuisine. Chin was responsible for menu creation and continued the Bradley tradition of using market-driven produce. In 2005, Chin couldn’t resist the opportunity to work for one of the world’s leading chefs Joël Robuchon in his first American project, Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand. Chin opened Robuchon as a sous chef and then was promoted to executive chef of MGM’s ultra-exclusive The Mansion to man the helm of the villa in-suit dining and dining room.
Chin’s current project is PiPS Wine Bar & Cucina, opening in the Aliante Casino and Hotel.
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Antoinette F. Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Gerald Chin: My family. I have a mixed heritage, Chinese and Portuguese, and both sides have a history with food. My grandmothers on both sides cooked big meals; it was in my blood I guess! I did two years of vocational culinary school in high school—that really set it off for me.
AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
GC: I opened Robuchon and then I was asked to oversee The Mansion. Also Bradley Ogden (Las Vegas, NV), Hotel Intercontinental (Geneva, Switzerland), Piping Rock Club (Locust Valley, NY), Judson Grille (NY), and Tavern on the Green (NY).
AB: Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
GC: Absolutely. If a student has a choice, I recommend it. It was one of the best times of my life. I do prefer to have someone with culinary schooling, but in Vegas it's getting harder and harder to get skilled people with education.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
GC: All my past chefs have been [mentors]. Style, grace, and elegance was John Johnstone—now Director of Food and Beverage at the Greenbrier in West Virginia and Certified Master Chef in the US—instilled when I was in high school working for him as an apprentice. Even now, all the guys joke around about starting a group called “S.G.E.”
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
GC: Where do you see yourself in two years?
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
GC: I always tell my guys, “Do your homework!” It’s not just about going to work and doing your station. If you see something that you're really not familiar with, you can ask the chef, but it's on you to go home and do the research. Find out why it’s in the kitchen why it’s being used.
AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
GC: Sense of taste, because it takes many years of practice to learn to use this “tool” in the kitchen. For a chef this is one of his/her most valuable tools.
AB: What is your favorite cookbook?
GC: Food Lover’s Companion (Barron’s Cooking Guide)
AB: What are your favorite restaurants, off the beaten path, in your city?
GC: Lotus of Siam off Sahara in Commercial Center. The Crispy Rice Salad is my favorite thing there.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
GC: My philosophy on food is what we call “market cuisine”—keep it fresh, seasonal, and simple. If you keep with market cuisine, the products shine themselves, so you only need a few things on the plate to keep it alive and fresh. All of my dishes have no more than five or six components. I'm big on using what's fresh, now.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
GC: After I was at Bradley Ogden we brought “market cuisine” here. Now everyone is using the highest quality ingredients. The hotels can afford it. Molecular gastronomy is also kicking in. To me, it's about understanding the chemical properties and how an ingredient cooks. I’m into Mediterranean flavors, but modified.
AB: Describe how you are involved in your local culinary community?
GC: We had a program set up at The Mansion where we’d take local culinary school students and they’d come in for three weeks to work in the kitchen. When I can, I work with them one-on-one. They usually ask to come back and if we have a position we like to bring them back. We have someone from the Art Institute of Las Vegas now. I was asked to teach at a local school but I had a schedule conflict. All the events I've done are for charity. My favorite is Epicurean [Charitable Foundation, Las Vegas] because it's for students who want to go to culinary school but can't afford it. For someone who’s not fortunate enough to pay for it, it helps them out. . . unlike me—I’m still paying for my education!
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
GC: A magician.
AB: What’s next for you?
GC: Owning my own restaurant. I'd like to stay in Las Vegas. I like how close it is to California. I’ve established myself here over the last five years. All the big chefs partner with hotels. There's a lot of opportunity here in Las Vegas for us young chefs.
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