When Grant MacPherson came from Singapore to Las Vegas to open Bellagio in 1998, he knew almost no one in this strange and electric new city. One of his few chef friends was stationed at the Rio, and MacPherson’s first trip there from Bellagio was by foot. “I had no idea how far it was. It probably took an hour and a half to walk over the overpass, and I think we went over and played pool all night at Pink E’s.”
The friend was the legendary chef Jean-Louis Palladin. He opened Napa at the Rio in 1997, one of the first true French dining rooms in a casino. (Martorano’s resides in that space today.) In 1974, Palladin became the youngest chef in France, at 28, to earn two Michelin stars while cooking at La Table des Cordeliers. He came to the States and opened a restaurant at the Watergate in Washington, D.C., in 1979, later expanded to New York and won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef in 1993. He mentored the likes of Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud, and was no doubt responsible for many fine chefs, French or otherwise, considering a move to Las Vegas.
Palladin died of lung cancer in 2001 at the age of 55. He might not have achieved as much fame as his colleagues, but he remains highly respected and influential. An annual dinner in his honor is traditionally hosted by another great French chef with an illustrious Las Vegas career, André Rochat.