Interview with Chef Martin Heierling of Sensi - Las Vegas, NV

September, 2005

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.