Chef Zach Allen
B&B Ristorante, Carnevino, and Enoteca San Marco | Las Vegas
The path to opening and running all three of the Batali and Bastianich restaurants in Vegas for Zach Allen sounds simple enough: start washing dishes in a kitchen when you’re 14; go to culinary school – Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island, specifically; stage in Paris and New York City restaurants; then get a gig in one of Batali’s restaurants and work your way up.
In 1999, Allen started working for the Batali group at Lupa under the watchful eyes of Mark Ladner. Four years – and a lot of pasta and pancetta – later, Zach was promoted to executive chef to open Otto Enoteca Pizzeria. A Batali protégé to be sure – orange clogs included – Zach became a student of the art of salumi and has been learning the craft from Mario and his father, as well as studying in Italy for the last several years. While at Otto, Allen launched the restaurant’s artisanal salumi program featuring over a dozen cured and aged meats; he now oversees all the salumi programs at the group’s Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles restaurants.
When the Batali/Bastianich group was looking to open three Vegas restaurants at once, they knew Allen was their man. He now leads the kitchens of B&B Ristorante, the upscale, 120-seat restaurant; Enoteca San Marco, the casual wine bar with small plates; and the grand, 300+ seat new-style steak and wine house Carnevino in the new Palazzo casino and hotel. Not bad for a 31 year old who graduated from culinary school less than 10 years ago!
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Antoinette F. Bruno: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
Zach Allen: In New York — La Reserve, Lupa, Otto Enoteca-Pizzeria.
AB: Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
ZA: I started working as a dishwasher in kitchens when I was 14. I went to Johnson & Whales [University] and did an internship in Paris. Regarding hiring – yes and no. I recommend going to [culinary school] – I like F.C.I. [French Culinary institute] and I.C.E. [The Institute of Culinary Education]. Johnson & Wales was good too because your credits can transfer over. It helps to be able to tell a cook to grab a rondeau and they know what it is. But the school of hard knocks is the best!
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
ZA: It is never the same. I like to look over their resume and see what they have done and [hear] why they want to move on.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
ZA: Find a chef that is willing to teach you and who will give you the time of day to let you work the stations. If they say they're just going to let you work pantry and not going to move you up, get ready for it — it's long hours and it doesn’t get easy. It must be one of the most stressful jobs out there. Everyone wants everything at the same time, and they don't understand sometimes that you have 300 people around you!
AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
ZA: Blast chiller — we use it for everything, from chilling stocks to blast-freezing the pasta and putting it in portion bags. We don’t necessarily freeze foods, just cool stuff down. Cooling down stocks is the main thing. Pastry uses it for semi-freddos and mousse.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants, off the beaten path, in your city?
ZA: Sen of Japan — it’s unbelievable. I get the mackerel with pickled sheets of sushi.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
ZA: Salt and pepper.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks? Why?
UN: I like The River Café Cookbook. It is food that speaks for itself — ingredient-focused and simplistic, which is the kind of food that I like to do.
AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel?
UN: Mainly to the Far East. I really like all of the fermented and preserved foods they use. Lots of preserved condiments, dried fish pastes, etc — things that really bounce off the meal.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
ZA: Buy the best, mess with it the least, and put it on the plate. That's the PC way of saying it. There's no reason for foams and “caviar of non-caviar.” I understand it, but I don't have any desire to do it…I would rather just spend the money on a better product.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
ZA: Hopefully we're starting our own trend with starting to get local produce in Vegas. We’re trying to get people to show us what they can do here. I would like to see a trend of less expensive dining, but I don't see that happening because of the culinary union. Off the strip there's great stuff. Hotels on the strip are expanding so much and they are only putting in one high end restaurant between all the properties.
AB: Which person in history would you most like to cook for? What would you serve? Who would you most like to cook for you?
ZA: [Paul] Bocuse — that whole idea of he and Ferdinand [Metz] with cuisine miniscule and nouvelle. They took Escoffier and made it more accessible to the average diner. I would serve them cured meats — that's my baby. Also, Fergus Henderson — I have had dinner with him before, but I’ve never had him cook for me. I like his complete use of the animal.
AB: Describe how you are involved in your local culinary community? What are some of your favorite food-related charities?
ZA: I’m involved with the University of Nevada, Slow Food, and the local green movement.
AB: What’ does success mean for you?
ZA: This has been the question. I love opening restaurants. I'd like to end up on the West Coast. I'd love to have two restaurants: one that’s open year around, casual fine dining, 85 seats, and another that is in a more touristy place that is only open 6 months, which will give me time to travel and learn.
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