As restaurant editor of Bon Appetit, Andrew Knowlton has one of the greatest journalism jobs out there—he travels the country and eats the food everyone is talking, Tweeting and Instagramming about. He’s no stranger to Las Vegas, either, having frequently pinpointed some of our neighborhood favorites for national attention. Last year he chose Kabuto as one of his favorite new restaurants in the country, and this week he’s back in town to host events at Vegas Uncork’d and do some research eating. We caught up with him as he prepares for Las Vegas’ biggest food weekend.
How many times have you done Uncork’d now? This is the seventh year and I’ve been to six. I think this year I’m going to be [hosting] some of the intimate dinners with celebrity chefs, which is always fun. Gordon Ramsay is coming in this year and I hope he gets in the kitchen and does some cooking, which would be a blast for me and everyone else. And then of course you have the Caesars Palace dine-around [Grand Tasting], which is always awesome.
- Vegas Uncork’d
- May 9-12, times, prices and locations vary, vegasuncorked.com.
I always assume the celebrity chefs hate the Grand Tasting, being forced to interact and kinda perform, but when I go to that event they really seem to be enjoying themselves. Oh yeah, they love that sh*t. All those egos? They love it. You can tell if someone is phoning it in, but we [Bon Appetit] try to associate with people who are really into this stuff, so that doesn’t really happen. Food festivals now are a dime a dozen and there are so many of them. Uncork’d is really about making these experiences unique, making these dinners special and letting you interact with these chefs, sometimes even in the kitchen.
Do you have a list of restaurants to try while you’re in Vegas this time? That was going to be my question for you. I will go to Nobu [at Caesars Palace] even though it’s Nobu and so you know what it’s going to taste like.
Is that something that bothers you about Vegas restaurants? One thing that’s crazy about Las Vegas to me is how these restaurants are mostly extensions of restaurants from [other cities] like New York. So many people leave Vegas thinking that’s what fine dining is, and the restaurants here are such big, showy places. Vegas is a gateway drug to fine dining, so the restaurants here have a great opportunity to put something on a menu and people are more apt to trust it. René Redzepi of Noma said that people are willing to try anything because he’s serving it, so he could put ants on a plate, which he has, and people are willing to try it.
I don’t think anyone is going to serve ants at Uncork’d. Probably not.
You compiled a list of “The Most Important Restaurants in America” this year, which inspired me to do something similar about Las Vegas. Did you rank the restaurants in your list? What was the number one?
I chose L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon because the quality of food plus the approachability of the restaurant represents, to me, the best of dining on the Strip. Yeah, the way that L’Atelier borrows from sushi bars with that counter service, that’s really become the thing to do. It’s so accessible. Anyone who doesn’t want to eat at the bar there, that’s mind-boggling to me.
Did you have a hard time shaping the criteria for your “Most Important” list? Oh yeah. Those things are always so subjective. Some people thought [my list] was dated because Momofuku was [the most important restaurant] and it’s really at the same place it was four years ago. But if you travel, you see that influence. You can’t go to a town and eat and not see pork buns or some version of bo ssam, and backless chairs and louder music playing. And what’s the point of making a list that people don’t talk about? Vegas would be hard for me because there are so many of those derivative restaurants and less independent restaurants, and I’m kind of partial to those little off-the-Strip places like Raku, Kabuto and Lotus of Siam.
Vegas is tough sometimes but you’ve got to keep track of the whole country. How do you make sure a great restaurant doesn’t fall through the cracks? That’s always the existential question. It’s impossible to try every new restaurant that opened this year. I try to have people I know, friends in the food business who can get a list of maybe 10 restaurants in Las Vegas or wherever, and then whittle that list down. You have to make tough choices about where to go and when to go back somewhere. But in this day and age, the way magazines are and the way journalism in general is, I’m lucky to be at Bon Appetit and be able to travel and experience these things first-hand. There are a lot of good food magazines out there but there are a lot of sh*tty magazines, too.
You have two young children. Are you working to shape their eating habits and tastes? I think about that all the time. Growing up, my mom cooked a lot, but I ate a lot of sh*t—grilled cheese, Kraft mac and cheese. I probably didn’t have a fresh, really good tomato until college. It’s interesting … my daughter will eat oysters and I don’t think she knows any better, or no one’s told her she shouldn’t like them. Inevitably some kid will say ‘That’s disgusting,’ and maybe she won’t eat them. But if she wants Cheetos, you know, pop ate those as a kid, and I turned out okay, in terms of palate. My wife says I’d be more disappointed if I looked under her bed and saw a bag of Doritos than if I found a joint, and that might be true. I don’t know. Kids do what their parents do, but the way these kids are growing up, they’re going to all be much smarter than us, anyway.