What do you get when you take a North Carolina boy, ship him off to cook in a Vegas-style resort in the Bahamas for two years, then put him in charge at Border Grill? You might get flavors like espresso-rubbed pork tenderloin with almond mole and candied carrot salad, or duck confit carnitas in spicy chipotle glaze with mango coulis.
Those were two dishes chef Chris Keating tried out at a recent Border Grill tequila dinner. The born-and-raised Southerner moved to Las Vegas in 2009 to work all over Caesars Palace before spending the last couple years at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill on Paradise Island in Nassau. Now he’s back on the Strip, getting ready to open the second Border Grill at the Forum Shops.
On kitchen life in the Bahamas: “It’s tougher than you would think, but it was a wonderful experience cooking outside the country and I’m glad I did it. It’s very similar to Vegas as far as the restaurant goes, crazy volume, 500 to 600 covers a night, seven days a week, all tourists. It never slowed down.”
On flavor parallels: “I grew up on barbecue and I love big bold flavors, the combination of sweet and heat, and I think that’s what drew me to Mesa Grill and Border Grill. There are definitely parallels between Mexican and Southwestern food and Southern food, where I’m from. Some of the combinations I love are finding their way into the menu, but we’ll still keep the traditional Mexican dishes very traditional.”
On barbecue blasphemy: “There are two types in North Carolina, east and west. I’m a big fan of the west, pulled pork and vinegar-based barbecue sauce, but I like the east, too—whole hog split open and you just pour vinegar in and pick it apart. You can’t get it mixed up with South Carolina. No, no, no … that’s blasphemy right there. My best friend is from Texas, and we argue about barbecue all the time. I do like Texas-style brisket, but if I had to choose, it’s a pulled pork sandwich every time.”