Interview with Chef Steve Mannino of Olives - Las Vegas, NV

September, 2005

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Steve Mannino: My family, first and foremost. Everyone in my family cooks. It’s almost like a competition. When I got older, I though I might as well make money doing it.

AB: Do you feel that attending The Culinary Institute of America helped developed your skills as a chef? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
SM: Yes, it taught me a lot of the basics, the foundation. I’d recommend culinary school for the same reason. You learn more than just going the restaurant route. It gives you more credibility. You must also travel and stage as well.

AB: Can you talk about your experiences working with David Burke and Todd English?
SM: David taught me straight creativity. Todd taught me about the use of bold, in-your-face flavor.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
SM: Less is kind of more. Put four things on the plate and make them work. This is reality; I don’t have a farm down the street. I take what I’m given and I make the best statement I can.

AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
SM: Pea tendrils are underutilized. I like different flavored oils, like orange oil, and flavored salts - smoked, herbed, etc.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
SM: A saucier spoon to put food on the plate.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or used in an unusual way?
SM: As a finishing touch or topping to a dish I will often create a mousse, whether it’s out of foie gras or parmesan, and freeze it. Then as a finisher I will shave the “mousse” using a truffle slicer for an extremely fine curl. By taking something relatively creamy, freezing it and shredding it, the mouth is teased with two competing and yet complimentary textures. It can add a lot of life to a dish.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
SM: That’s easy - Do you know exactly what you’re getting into? I think too many cooks walk into a position either thinking they know it all or thinking that they can handle any situation. The environment we work in is high stress and fast passed; the last thing I want is someone being misled into a position that they didn’t anticipate or where they are il-prepared for the events that transpire when things get.

AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
SM: As a representative for the Bellagio when recruiting, and when mentoring other up and coming chefs, I encourage them to take the slow road in determining their course or career path. They should really consider extensive travel that will allow them to eat and work in new ways on a regular basis. In experiences, both personal and culinary, new chefs will easily find a path that will keep them on track for continued learning.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
SM: I really enjoy cookbooks because they allow you to learn a great deal from known chefs and the foundations of cooking like classic techniques and the history and development of food. Right now, I’m skimming Mario Batali’s new book, Molto Italiano and am enjoying it immensely. But honestly, I’m more of a culinary magazine man. Staying up to date on trends in the industry is a great way to not only compare where you stand in the culinary world, but it also can show you interesting tools and techniques that you may not have considered.
AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
SM: I started my career working in five cities for five years, so culinary travel is important to me. Some of my favorites are cities that I’ve worked in or would love to work in: San Francisco, Chicago, New York are places that I’ve already worked. I’m headed to Rome this fall and I can’t wait, but I’d also love the chance to travel more extensively and work in Spain.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
SM: I’m really excited that the deconstructionist movement coming to a close. I would much rather see people enjoy food as it was meant to be eaten and classically prepared.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
SM: A while ago, this was easier for me to answer as I worked in those five cities in five years. Now that I have a family and also have the opportunity to travel more, I definitely see myself having my own restaurant within five years. In ten years I think that I’m capable of having an off-shoot of that original restaurant in another city with the help of my chef friends.