You opened seven new restaurants in the last year, all across the country. That’s got to be some kind of record. It was our biggest year ever, by far. A couple of those were supposed to open in the year prior and they all ended up getting pushed together. But this year we’re not opening any, we’re going to focus on what we have. Fortunately, we have a pretty systematic way of doing it, and a great group of people who have been together for a long, long time. And not only were there so many new restaurants, but there were several new concepts, which is always super exciting. It’s very exhilarating, and there’s a lot of learning.
You have four restaurants in Las Vegas now—Michael Mina, Stripsteak, Pub 1842 and the brand-new Bardot Brasserie at Aria. What has the response been at the new spot so far, and have people asked why you chose classic French cuisine this time? People have asked about that. I don’t think it’s ever a stretch for any chef, because these are the roots for the majority of us—it’s how we were trained to begin with. I’ve been telling everybody how much fun it is to come in the kitchen at Bardot Brasserie and stand in front of all the pots on the stove and see these classic reductions you don’t get to see as much in this day and age. Every dish has a different sauce. French onion soup in one pot, chicken fat reduction in another … it’s really nice.
But it was not difficult to go this route, and our chef Joshua Smith is unbelievable. We had a lot of fun collaborating and putting this menu together. You know going into it 50 percent of your menu is going to be traditional and just executed at a really high level. We spend four days just preparing the chicken the right way, air-drying it, doing all the things that go into a perfect roast chicken. The technique is straight-forward, it just has to be perfect. And then we get to have fun with the other dishes, like the fun play that is the duck wings à l'orange.
So is that how the menu ended up half traditional and half more innovative? It’s closer to about 70 percent stuff that’s really familiar at executed at a very high level, then 30 percent of that fun stuff.
Was there a different new restaurant that was closest to Bardot, that maybe helped set you on a course for this food and experience? Not exactly, but RN74 [in Seattle and San Francisco] is more modern French, based on Burgundy. So there you’ll see more of those duck-wing type of dishes, less classics but still the same techniques.
You came to Las Vegas from San Francisco to open a restaurant in Bellagio 16 years ago, and now you’ve got this vast restaurant empire. Does Vegas still have a special meaning for you after all these years? Definitely. I feel like one of the most blessed chefs in the world because I know it’s rare for a chef to make a name in two cities. You’re kind of always known for your first city, but I feel like a big part of me will always be in Las Vegas. The people are really gracious to me here and have been from the start. I was blessed to have that start with Steve Wynn and Bellagio and then so lucky to have that roll into a great relationship with MGM. Half the people I talk to think I live here.
Las Vegas is special for many chefs but for me, it’s everything I want—personally it’s exactly what I like in my restaurants. I really enjoy people having a good time in my restaurants. I don’t believe in whisper joints and I never have. I don’t build ‘em. I love to have energy and to be able to deliver a high level of food service and maintain a great energy.