It’s been about a month since you opened your first-ever restaurant. How close are you to having things the way you want? It feels like when you’re in school as a kid and the homework never ends. We have a really talented team and everyone is really good at their jobs, and we’re lucky to be booked for most of the summer, which is lovely. I’ve definitely realized it’s a very difficult job. I’m here for a week, gone a week, back a week, then gone again, and everyone is energized while I’m here. The question is, how do I do that when I’m not here, how do I keep the kitchen and front of the house working together cohesively? It’s an art.
Emeril Lagasse told me people are the hardest part of the restaurant business. And what makes me happy food-wise isn’t necessarily what’s going to make you happy. I have a lot of people come in happy and leave happy, and others who are disappointed it’s not the Italian food they thought it should be. I’ve run into that my entire career, so it doesn’t surprise me. But there are a lot of great Italian restaurants on the Strip, and if I’m not going to be different, why would I be here?
You’ve been here a lot. Yes. The toughest thing is for my family, because this restaurant has completely consumed me. It’s like a baby. I have one child, and I remember what it was like to have her and go back to work when she was 6 weeks old. She consumed me. I called the nanny every five seconds. I think it’s a bit different here than how most celebrity chefs handle these restaurants, but basically I’m trying to spend all my free time here.
You’ve had other offers to do other restaurants here and in New York and LA. What made this the right time and the right place? The other spaces were just existing or failed restaurants where there wasn’t much to do but maybe some new paint, new carpet and put my name on it. I just never felt a connection. If I’m going to put all my eggs in this basket, it’s gotta be more than just a restaurant. I saw this space when it was a two-floor parking garage. I walked it. I looked at that view and thought it was wrong to let those cars have this view all those years. And, I thought, if all else fails, they’ll come for the view. Service and food should be wonderful, but never underestimate location.
Has this experience changed the way you think about Vegas? I grew up in LA, and so I spent a lot of time in Vegas, and I think I’ve learned more about what Vegas is now, and I understand the culture and why people fall into those traps as an eater or a foodie or a consumer or a chef. Following my tastes, keeping my identity, that has been the toughest thing.
The Cromwell is very different from other Strip resorts, maybe more convenient because it’s smaller. We have an entrance that’s off the Strip, which is unique. People can get lost so easy in these [bigger] casinos. This is smaller, more inviting. Is it going to bring in a unique clientele? I think so because it’s special. You can’t be like everybody else if you want to rise to the top. Average is not good enough. Getting up there means you need to take risks, and part of that is being unique.