Industry Weekly

[Architect]

Culinary leader Johnny Church charts a new course

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Johnny Church took over as executive chef at Aureole at Mandalay Bay last year.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

"Cook Fast.” Those words, tattooed across a faux Converse logo, are the symbol of a small group of culinary professionals who have greatly impacted Las Vegas dining. Among their members is Johnny Church, who affectionately refers to them as a “street gang.” And he laughs at the impression some people get from it.

“It’s not about cooking fast,” Aureole’s executive chef says. “It’s like the whole sailor thing, like ‘hold fast.’ We all came up in kitchens together, we all worked on the line together and we had a camaraderie, a brotherhood-sisterhood sort of thing.”

Church says the phrase dates back to the kitchens of both the Stirling Club—formerly at Turnberry Place—and Andre’s, where the group originally toiled together. And, as many of these stories go, the first Cook Fast tattoo involved a night of drinking, during which Church’s ex-wife inked a group of inebriated chefs including Las Vegas Country Club’s Mike Van Staden and Momofuku’s Shaun King (and later, Gastromix’s Chris Bulen, Scott Green of Robert Irvine’s Public House and Charlie Palmer Steak’s Lalo Saavedra). This crew is all over the place, and you didn’t even know it.

When Church took the reins of what he affectionately refers to as Aureole 2.0 late last year, he implemented menu changes at the iconic Mandalay Bay restaurant in an attempt to source as many local and sustainable ingredients as possible, a challenging task for such a large venue.

“My job here is to figure out how we can feed your soul by implementing cool and fun techniques but still executing at a high level while serving 350 covers a night,” he says. But the energetic chef doesn’t rest on his laurels, reflecting that “once a dish is right, it’s time to change it.” Cook fast indeed.

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Jim Begley

Jim Begley is an avid food lover who began writing about his Las Vegas dining adventures to defray his obscene ...

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