Chef Mike Minor is known for his years helping build Border Grill—the Mandalay Bay outpost of the popular restaurant started in LA by celebrity chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger—into the most acclaimed Mexican restaurant on the Strip. You might not know Minor is a Pittsburgh native (and die-hard Steelers fan) who grew up in Las Vegas and carved out a career coming up in kitchens all around the Valley.
Most memorable meal: Jose Andres’ Bazaar in Hollywood “When I left that restaurant, I felt like I should quit what I’m doing and never ever pick up a knife again, because I have no idea what food is about. The foie gras with cotton candy wrapped around it was super-cool. They did this dragon’s breath lollipop thing, where you bite into it and then blow smoke out, and the perfect Tanqueray and tonic where all the botanicals are frozen in an ice sphere, so as it melts, the drink changes. It’s really incredible.”
Favorite chili pepper: aji amarillo “If you’ve had shrimp and grits on our brunch menu, this chili is the base for that sauce. I am using it in everything, and I never get tired of it. It has incredible flavor, the spice of it is nice and bite-y, but it’s a clean heat. When you bite into a habañero, it’s extremely hot, but it goes away pretty quick. When you bite a jalapeño, it’s not as hot, but it lingers. It doesn’t leave your mouth—it continues to antagonize you. I call that a dirty heat. The aji amarillo hits you with a clean heat then goes away, and you’re able to taste the other food.”
Favorite cocktail: Tanqueray and tonic “It’s a chef’s drink. There’s something about the botanicals in there … I really appreciate those flavors. I like Tanqueray Ten, or Hendrick’s is great, too. But are we doing shots? Jameson. And my favorite beer is La Victoria; we’ve got it on tap at the Santa Monica Border Grill.”
Guilty pleasure: McDonald’s “If Susan and Mary Sue knew I ate McDonald’s they would totally look down on me. (laughs) But you know, living in Las Vegas as a kid, there were no nice restaurants, and my parents were never home. They were either working graveyard or out gambling, so we ran around town with nobody at these homes, partying and doing whatever we wanted. Here’s $10 to grab dinner? I’d get a 99-cent cheeseburger and have the rest to buy a beer or do something we weren’t supposed to be doing. So unfortunately, McDonald’s is in my repertoire, but I’m trying hard not to eat it. I promised my wife.”
Favorite cookbook: Boy Gets Grill “It’s one of Bobby Flay’s older books, but it’s one of my favorites. I know Bobby, I dig his food and I love how he takes Mexican and southwestern and incorporates everything. I hope one day I can be as successful as him with food that is approachable.”
Favorite food to cook at home: barbecue “I cook barbecue every week. I get off work Saturday night and go home and do barbecue, and if you’re in my neighborhood around 1 a.m. you can smell it. It’s my favorite food to cook at home by far, and I think this town is lacking in that artisan-style of barbecue. There are places here that are pretty good, and I like it even if it’s just okay. But I love that Kansas city-style, sweet-thick-molasses style barbecue, and I can’t stand that mustard-based vinegar barbecue. It’s just not for me. Everybody’s got their thing about what they think barbecue is, and I think that’s why those kinds of restaurants struggle. It’s just like in Mexico, every region has a different mole. In Puebla, they think they started mole, and mole poblano is the best ever. In Oaxaca they think theirs is best. I like ’em both.”