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StarChefs.com 2008 New York Rising Stars

 

 

 

 

 

The Las Vegas Rising Stars and Why They Shine
By Amanda McDougall and Antoinette Bruno
September 2008

The 2008 Starchefs.com las Vegas Rising Stars
Not Pictured: Anthony Amoroso, Zach Allen and Wesley Holton

Click here for more information about the las Vegas Rising Stars Revue on
October 21st at the Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa and Casino

In a town loaded with cash, restaurants, and wine, it’s not hard to find a chef, pastry chef, sommelier, or mixologist. For Rising Stars, the trick is in finding those who have that special combination of creative expression, winning personality, beautiful presentation, delicious product, and a lot of ambition—all while handling the massive volume of the Vegas crowds. We tasted hundreds of savory and sweet dishes, deciphered nearly as many wine pairings, sipped dozens of cocktails, and conducted countless interviews. In the end, just eleven up-and-coming Vegas chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, and mixologists were chosen to be Rising Stars. This talented group represents the best, brightest and most innovative individuals in their fields.


CHEF: Zach Allen, Carnevino, B&B Ristorante, Enoteca San Marco

WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Zach Allen is just 31 years old and overseeing the kitchens of the three Batali/Bastianich Vegas operations—no doubt, a huge undertaking.  Allen’s influence and responsibility also extends to include the Batali meat curing programs in New York, Los Angeles, and now Vegas—he is the man behind the restaurants’ prosciutto, culatello, and other cured, aged animal parts. When it comes to the menus at the three Vegas restaurants, an Italian influence is a given, but Allen finds a way to keep it fresh with highly seasonal and unexpected ingredients, like fava leaves and ginger. His winning Averna Pork was loaded with bold flavors (Italian Averna liqueur, ginger, and fresh bay leaf), but balanced with a cool cucumber salad brightened with fresh grated ginger and lightly spicy chilies.  

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Averna Pork with Cucumber-Ginger Salad
-Lobster Crudo Cotto: Lobster Tail Crudo, Lobster Claw Mousse in Zucchini Blossom, Lobster Claw Battered and Fried

CHEF: Anthony Amoroso, Michael Mina

WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
For a town that’s all about glitz and glitter, Chef Anthony Amoroso stands out for his sophisticated and refined cuisine. Amoroso describes his philosophy on food and dining as “less is more,” and it certainly shows: his sense of presentation is understated and beautiful, and he has a gift for subtle balances of flavors. The Pancetta-Wrapped Cavendish Farms Quail, Marcona Almonds, Brown Butter Jus and Almond Milk Foam achieves that equilibrium of being both rich and light, and it has a delicate look to it. Tiny cylinders of boneless quail meat sit on single Brussels sprout leaves, and the bubbly almond milk foam spills over top—it’s quintessential Amoroso.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Pancetta-Wrapped Cavendish Farms Quail, Marcona Almonds, Brown Butter Jus and Almond Milk Foam
- Alaskan Halibut with Maine Lobster Tortellini, Roasted Oyster Mushrooms, Lemon and Olive Oil Emulsion

CHEF: Gerald Chin, PiPS Wine Bar & Cucina

WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:

When we met Gerald Chin, he was executive chef of The Mansion—the private dining room of the über-exclusive MGM Grand villas. For the last three years, he had been quietly serving outstanding cuisine that’s spectacularly presented on beautiful and unusual dishes (one dish actually glows in the center with alternating shades of blue, green, purple, and red). He’s since moved on to open PiPS, and is bringing his elegant, flavorful, market-driven cuisine with him. Chin is not afraid to use bold flavors but he does so with graceful restraint. And he keeps the components of his dishes to a minimum, never putting more than six on a plate. The Mediterranean-inspired Tonno with marinated eggplant and basil essence is not only stunning for its bright color and flawless translucency, but also for its impeccable freshness, layering of textures, and lively but balanced flavor combination.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Tonno: Tuna Crudo on Eggplant “Caviar” Tart with Basil Essence
- Animelle: Veal Sweetbreads, Morels, Parmesan, Milk Cappuccino, Red Pepper Vinaigrette

CHEF: Greg Engelhardt, Andre’s (Downtown)

WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:

Passion—one of the most commonly used words when it comes to chefs and food, but this is the very thing that set Greg Engelhardt apart from the crowd. Engelhardt speaks of making Hollandaise with such heart that if feels like you’re discovering something new. There are few chefs of his generation that can make classical French cuisine seem so exciting, but Engelhardt is not to be pegged as just a classical French chef—his cuisine is an effortless blend of modern techniques and ingredients with a strong classic foundation. His cube of poussin filled with black truffle and foie gras is rooted in tradition in terms of the flavor combination, but these small squares of game bird are far from old fashion.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Duo of Organic, Free-Range Poussin: Pan-Seared Poussin Cube Filled with Foie Gras and Black Truffle and Sauteed Breast with Natural Jus and Wild Mushrooms
- Caponata-Wrapped Colorado Lamb Rack withOven Roasted Loin, Fondant Potatoes and Lamb Jus with Harissa

CHEF: Wesley Holton, Daniel Boulud Brasserie

WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Bold and French aren’t two words that often go together when describing someone’s cuisine, but Wesley Holton isn’t your typical steak frites brasserie chef. Holton’s culinary roots are no-doubt based in French technique (he is executive chef of Daniel Boulud Brasserie after all), but where he goes from there is all-American eclectic and always beautifully plated, teasing the boundary between classic and modern. His dishes are packed with flavor and highlighted by nuances of texture and excellent execution. The Loup de Mer shows Holton’s lighter side, though no less bold in flavor. The filet is perched on cauliflower florets set in a swoop of perfectly smooth cauliflower puree; a “salad” of grapes, raisins, saffron cauliflower and pine nuts drizzled with sauce vierge delicately garnishes the filet.

The Dishes that Clinched it:

- Pan-Roasted Loup de Mer with Cauliflower, Saffron, Grapes  and Pine Nuts
- Trio of Kurobuta Pork: Roasted Rack with Bacon and Calves' Feet Crust; Pork Sausage with Pine Nuts and Red Currants



CHEF: Brian Rae, RM Seafood

WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
“Food always came easy for me,” says Chef de Cuisine Brian Rae about his start in the food biz working for a grocery when he was in high school. Rae’s dishes are urbane but not overly wrought with wacky science and bizarre ingredients; they have a certain easy-going sophistication that’s comforting but still adventurous. Following Chef Rick Moonen’s cue, Rae carefully sources his ingredients—from the sustainable fish and seafood to the uncommon sake lees that make his dishes standout. His Pan-Seared Abalone, Slow-Cooked Aracauna Egg, Toasted Brioche with Brown Butter and White Balsamic captures Rae’s ability to fuse homey-comfort with stylish refinement: the dish was rich and buttery with bright punches of tang from capers; the slow-cooked egg melted into the other elements on the plate to create a decadent sauce; the layers of textures ranged from gentle chewiness from the tender abalone, to crisp and crunchy brioche bits, to soft and delicate from the egg.

The Dishes that Clinched it:

- Pan-Seared Abalone, Slow-Cooked Araucana Egg, Toasted Brioche with Brown Butter and White Balsamic
- Medallions of Cobia with Sticky Rice, Piquillo Pepper Chutney, and Sake Lees "Gazpacho"

HOTEL CHEF AWARD: Joe Isidori, formerly of DJT at Trump International

WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Isidori was the “Chef and B” of the new Trump Tower—not a familiar title to everyone—and that means he was responsible for every aspect of food and beverage on the Trump property, from the flagship restaurant DJT to in-suite dining, banquets and lobby bar, and the pool-side café H2[eau]. What put Isidori over the top was his skillful layering of flavors, flawless technique, and keen sense of innovation—Isidori finds a way to insert avant garde components into a dish without making the dish overly intellectual or unfamiliar (essential for the more tame Vegas palates). Beyond his cuisine, it’s Isidori’s keen business sense and drive that won him the Hotel Chef Award—he was active in guiding the course of Trump properties around the country, and we’re sure he’ll continue to impact the field in the future.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Chinese Braised Prime Short Rib with Cucumber Yogurt, Parsnip, Cilantro and Candied Mango
- South Carolina Squab with Cantonese Black Bean Sauce, Ginger Bok Choy

SUSTAINABILITY AWARD: Mike Minor, Border Grill

WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Sustainability is a sticky issue in Vegas. Initially we weren’t even sure we would find someone to give our Sustainability award to…until we met Mike Minor. Minor is not just putting sustainable items on his menu and resting on his laurels—he is spreading the sustainability gospel to his diners and the next generation of Vegas chefs. Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch wallet cards are put on every place setting, and Minor often leaves his kitchen to visit with his customers to explain his sustainable menu. Beyond Border Grill, Minor partners with Chef Rick Moonen of RM Seafood to teach sustainable seafood classes at Nevada’s Le Cordon Bleu school, and he invites stages into his kitchen to learn about how he sources and works with sustainable products. “It feels good,” Minor explains, “We don’t make our decisions based on profitability—we’re doing the right thing for our customers and for the industry.”

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- New Zealand Green Lip Mussels with Ancho Chiles and Chorizo
- Hawaiian Ceviche Napolean: Opa with Mango and Cherries on a Spicy Taro Chip

PASTRY CHEF: Uyen Nguyen, Guy Savoy

WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Bringing out the best in a product is how 29-year-old Executive Pastry Chef Uyen Nguyen defines her pastry philosophy, and it’s a also why she’s a Rising Star. Nguyen has a way with her desserts that is simple yet complex, classic yet abstract, delicate yet with powerful effects. Her dishes play with pure flavors and build on layers of textures that are not only delightful but extraordinarily presented. Nguyen’s citrus salad is a serene landscape of seven type of citrus arranged on a perforated plate set over a bowl of dry ice; when hot chamomile and citrus tea is poured into the bowl, a scented steam rolls out of the perforations and over the citrus salad like a fog. The effect is stunning and ethereal—experiential pastry at its best. Her Fresh Dates with Fromage Blanc Sorbet mimics eggs and sausage in look (the white sorbet quenelle as the egg; the compressed fresh dates as the sausage), but is delicately sweet with a tart lift from the fromage blanc, slightly chewy from the dates, with a bit of crunch from candied macadamia nuts.  

The Dishes that Clinched it:
- Fresh Dates with Fromage Blanc Sorbet and Orange Confiture
- Citrus Salad with Hot Chamomile Tea Steam

SOMMELIER: Michael Shearin, formerly of DJT at Trump International

WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:

Not many people have the hutzpa to pair sake with a strawberry soufflé, but Michael Shearin is a different kind of sommelier. For one, Shearin was also the Trump’s Beverage Director, so it was his job to know not only everything about wine, but everything about sake, beer, and spirits, too—and his breadth of knowledge was impressive. Shearin’s pairings took us on a world tour from French micro-Champagne to New Zealand Riesling to Oregon micro-brewed beer to California Syrah to Japanese sake; each finding flavors to enhance and contrast in the accompanying dish. For all of Shearin’s wine-smarts and beverage know-how, he turns what could be an intimidating situation into a relaxed and friendly one with an easy-going dialogue.

MIXOLOGIST: Amanda Gager, StripSteak

Gager only recently got into mixology after years devoted to flair bartending, but her cocktails come off like she’s been doing it for years. Citing Bobby “G” (Gleason) and Francesco Lafranconi as her top two mentors, Gager focuses on balance, texture, and flavor when creating her cocktails. Spoken like a true spirits-lover, Gager eschews “girlie” drinks, preferring to work with bourbon to make her balanced libations. Her Honey Love is a perfect example of this: a blend of bourbon, Cointreau, freshly squeezed lemon juice, honey syrup, egg white and freshly grated cinnamon. Her youthful enthusiasm for her craft and love for mixology, on top of her fantastic personality, made her an easy pick. 

The drink that clinched it:
- Honey Love (Bourbon, Cointreau, Lemon Juice, Honey Syrup, Egg White, Freshly Grated Cinnamon)
- In A Hammock (Tequila, Grand Marnier, Simple Syrup, Lemon Juice, Purple Basil Leaves)

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