Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Chef Aaron Losch


Getting to know the big man behind the resort’s food and beverage services…

Last fall I met with one of Westgate Resort‘s executive team to discuss this series on their culinary team. During our luncheon we were unexpectedly joined by a third person. Big, burly, and with a serious expression on his face, this mountain of a man made an imposing first impression. Then he broke into an enormous smile…and everything changed.

Chef Aaron Losch is a fascinating person to watch in action. Omnipresent, he seems to be everywhere at once. Being Director of Culinary Operations over the vast array of Westgate’s food and beverages, that perception surely works to his advantage. His presence is felt even when he’s not around.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                Westgate’s Fresco Italiano’s lounge and bar area…

Now that I’ve covered most of the Westgate dining outlets at this point, I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Chef Losch. He’s introduced me to other members of his team, invited me to sample new offerings at The Court and greeted me in passing while going about his day. But we never got to sit down and actually converse in depth until recently.

We started off our interview by getting a little dirty, so to speak. I’d checked out Chef Losch’s Facebook page and was fascinated by posts about him participating in Tough Mudder competitions. The images were a far cry from his usual pristine white attire, so I had to find out how someone gets involved in those extremely dirty endurance events.

“Why not do something insanely stupid?” was his remarkably direct response.  The trendy gauntlet-like courses are usually over ten miles long and test mental as well as physical strengths. “Your first one is a rite of passage. Every first-timer gets an electric shock” he said.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

These courses are made up of several kinds of obstacles, like plunges into ice water, monkey bars slicked with butter…and live wires hanging over a field of mud. “It’s really extreme” he laughed. “People go down from the electric shocks and they don’t get up. It’s really funny to watch”.

My face must have conveyed its own kind of shock, as Chef Aaron continued to laugh. He told me that his nine-year-old daughter participates in Tough Mudder, too. Losch doesn’t worry about coddling her, though. A natural prankster, he has a unique angle on parenting. “I’m the kind of dad who wraps grapes to make them look like chocolate Easter eggs”.

The Losch family lifestyle is all about adventure. Chef Aaron, wife Jamie and children Abbie (9) and Ethan (7) love to travel. Whether it’s zip-lining in Mexico, swimming with dolphins, visiting the Statue of Liberty or dabbling in Harry Potter’s magic at Universal Studios California, the quartet of thrill-seekers always has a blast.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Before marrying Jamie eleven years ago, Losch had already covered a lot of ground in the culinary world. Born in Santa Monica, he grew up in Port Angeles Washington. At nineteen he moved to my area of Portland Oregon to enroll in Western Culinary Institute. The school later became Le Cordon Bleu of Portland before permanently closing its doors in 2017.

Like many of his Westgate colleagues, Chef Aaron got his first taste of kitchen experience at an early age. “My parents told me to get a job while I was in high school. I applied for a dishwashing spot at the family restaurant of a friend. It was one of only two fine-dining restaurants in Port Angeles”.

It wasn’t long before Losch moved from scrubbing plates to working on the line. “After awhile I got to do prep in the kitchen and ended up being at the restaurant for three years. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush!”. That thrill motivated the budding chef to change his career plans from accounting to culinary school.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                             The Mansion at MGM Grand…

Moving to Vegas, Chef Aaron gained experience in several high profile locations. “Michael Mina’s Nobhill Tavern was my intro to fine dining in Las Vegas”. That famed spot, which was home to the legendary Cable Car Cocktail, shuttered in 2013. His tenure at MGM Grand also included The Mansion, one of the most opulent and revered destinations in the city. Despite the prestige of working in that exclusive location, the pace just wasn’t for him. “I wanted to shoot myself. It was so up-and-down there. I wanted volume!”.

Within those pre-Westgate years were a collection of valuable opportunities and beneficial experiences. One of them was the chance to open a restaurant from the ground up for Piero Selvaggio. “Caffe Giorgio Ristorante at Mandalay Place was the first one that I got to build out. It wasn’t the fit I was looking for either, so I only lasted eight months”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

BOA Steakhouse at Forum Shops of Caesars was more to Losch’s liking. “I walked in, got recognized and was hired on the spot. I went from Sous Chef to Executive Sous Chef and remained there for another year and a half”.

Throughout the ensuing years, quality and prestige went hand-in-hand in the varied establishments that added to Chef Aaron’s portfolio. Renaissance Hotel (home to ENVY Steakhouse), Wynn/Encore, T-Bones Chophouse at Red Rock Resort…all fabulous restaurants recognized for their top-quality dining. While at T-Bones, he received an award for his contributions to the Vegas Food and Wine Festival.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Chef Losch was wooed away from Red Rock by an opportunity to work with famed hotelier/restaurateur Chef Alex Stratta. Stratta is best known to Las Vegans as the name behind Alex and Stratta at Wynn Las Vegas. Hired as Corporate Executive Chef for the Stratta Restaurant group, his time there was a mixed blessing.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                With Chef Alex Stratta (center) at TAPAS…

“The level that Chef Stratta was doing things was at one I’d never seen before”, he told me. Despite those high ambitions, Stratta’s desire to bring Strip-quality fare to outlying areas didn’t quite work out. Efforts such as Tapas at Tivoli Village and an Italian steakhouse at The Gramercy either closed quickly or didn’t happen at all. A partnership with Vegas-based Preferred Restaurant Brands also collapsed.

But such is life in a profession where concepts soar, tastes change and new opportunities lie in wait. For Chef Losch, that next adventure would take place at a legendary destination, itself in the midst of reinvention and elevation.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                          Westgate’s Silk Road Asian Bistro…

Now the new Executive Chef of Sid’s Cafe, Losch worked alongside noteworthy names like Grant MacPherson and Charles Wilson. Last August he accepted a promotion to his current position. “As Director of Culinary Operations, my job is to help the chefs in the room to be creative”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                         With award-winning Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan…

“I’ve worked with a lot of really good chefs” he continued “but some are not always the best people. I’ve been very lucky with my team here”. That collection includes the chefs that I’ve previously profiled on this site as well as his four assistants. Together they’re the driving force behind the restaurants, events, catering and banquet menus.

Being in charge of so many aspects of a department can be daunting, but out of it comes results. “I want to earn my position…I’m my own worst critic. The pressure comes from wanting to succeed”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                                          Fresco Italiano…

As the resort continues to evolve alongside ever-changing preferences, so do the concepts that Westgate’s culinary team rolls out. “Falling back on ‘What we always do’ never works. If you’re continuously doing the same thing, time after time, but expecting a different result…well, that’s the definition of insanity. You have to change and re-evaluate your approach. Of course, ‘corporate’ has their own ideas, too. You’ve got to integrate that all together. Ultimately, I want my bosses to succeed”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                Entrance to Westgate’s “Restaurant Row”…

During our conversation, Chef Losch and I were joined by Gabrielle PerezGeneral Manager of Casual Dining. She and Chef Aaron had previously worked together at Wynn Las Vegas. It was clear from their camaraderie that being at Westgate was a positive and beneficial change of pace. Especially from the corporate mentality at other Vegas resorts.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

“I enjoy building strong and dynamic teams that are passionate, committed and engaged to making hospitality fun, beautiful and profitable”, she told me. “I love the atmosphere at Westgate. There’s lots of professionalism here. So much of it that I’m continually amazed. But it’s mixed with fun and plenty of creativity”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Such positive words coming from a member of his own team must make Chef Aaron feel very proud. Despite the challenges of his field, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy his personal time as much if the culinary team wasn’t a smooth-running machine.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

After our interview, Chef Aaron showed me his office in the depths of the resort’s inner workings. Covering the walls and shelves were memorabilia and mementos. Crests from Game of Thrones. Disney character statues. Bottles of Las Vegas Knights wine. “I LOVE the Knights”, he exclaimed.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

When I mentioned how serene things seemed in his personal space, Chef Aaron chuckled. “It’s not always this way. Sometimes I have a line of people out the door. Situations need to be addressed, emergencies come up, decisions need to be made. But that’s why I’m here”.

With things going so well at Westgate, it’s safe to say that everyone is glad that Chef Aaron is the big man in charge. And that’s why dining at the re-invigorated off-Strip resort is such a satisfying and mouth-watering experience.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

For a list of Westgate’s casual and fine dining options, menus and operating hours, click here.

Photos: Sammasseur, Chef Aaron Losch, Jamie Losch, Vegas.com, Vegas Food and Wine Festival, Tough Mudder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Guys of Vegas: Eye of the Beholder


Checking out the beauty of Sin City’s hunks from both sides of the lens…

For some guys, the camera is like a best friend. It can tell a story, show the world who you are…or allow you to share your vision with others. In this edition of “Hot Guys of Vegas”, I introduce you to professional models and photographers who are just as beautiful.

NICK AYLER – Deejay/model/actor

 

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

                                                          Nick Ayler

Where you’ve seen him – Bond at Cosmopolitan, Abercrombie & Fitch, GQ

Some men make the world look better just by being so handsome. Deejay/actor/model Nick Ayler makes it sound better too. This hot hunk is a nightclub favorite who brings his own take on music to dance spots in Vegas, Los Angeles and around the world.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

I was first introduced to Nick when he was heating up the crowd at Bally’s Liaison Nightclub, a unique experiment in Strip-side gay nightlife by legendary club purveyor Victor Drai. Handsome, chiseled and flashing a boyish smile that kept his simmering sex appeal in balance, the stud from Buffalo NY instantly won me over.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Ayler’s talents have been a favorite at LGBTQ spots like Piranha and the former Share. As you might imagine, having a shirtless, muscular hunk at the turntables tends to draw that type of crowd. But as you can see below, it takes all kinds of revelers to fill Nick’s dance floor.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

In a culture where being a multi-hyphenate is a requirement, Ayler has been racking up stacks of additions to his resume. Actor, model, humanitarian, philosopher, music producer, percussionist and fitness guru are all ingredients in the Nick Ayler cocktail. But even a muscle hunk needs a little junk food sometimes.

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Noteworthy traits – smoldering gaze, electric charisma

 

Preston Thompson – model/dancer/fitness competitor

 

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                                                      Preston Thompson

Where you’ve seen him – romance novel covers, private gigs, photo ops on the Strip

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If you’re a regular reader, you know that I cover the Mr. Olympia Fitness Expo every year. It’s hard to stand out in that type of crowd, but Preston Thompson makes it look easy. He’s earned the right to lift up his shirt in front of that “Muscle and Fitness” banner.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Preston came to Sin City two years ago by way of Atlanta. He grew up in a log house on a farm in Knoxville, TN then moved through five different states before heading for the bright lights of the Strip.

When he arrived, the twenty-six-year-old hunk was determined to take Las Vegas by storm: “Every move I make is calculated” he says. “This isn’t a guessing game”.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Now that he’s here, Preston juggles many different hats…and shirts, costumes and gear. You’ll find him on the cover of romance novels by Vegas-based Wander Aguiar Photography. And he shakes up parties and private events by performing as “Bradley” for Wild Entertainment, the Steve Kim entertainment agency I told you all about right here.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Like Thompson, gal pal Natasha Kirby is a fitness enthusiast. She recently competed in the Salt Lake City Showdown, and the couple hopes to do fitness competitions together soon.

In their spare time, Natasha and Preston like to visit shelters just to spend quality time with the animals. Preston is especially fond of felines. Although having pets isn’t currently permitted where he lives, adopting cats is high on the list of Preston’s goals.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Despite his brawny frame and steely gaze, Preston is a philosopher at heart:

When you figure out in life that everything’s made to be broken….then you’ll truly understand how fragile life is. Just make me a Believer and I’ll follow… no matter the path.

All that introspection might be a little heavy at times, so he likes to lighten things up with a little outward inspection. By that I mean lots of selfies through the years…to chart his progress, of course:

On some evenings, you might spot Preston and his beefy friends (they call themselves G.I. Hoes) posing for photographs in front of Planet Hollywood or at the Linq Promenade. While other characters might hide behind padded suits or just stand there for a tip, Preston struts his stuff…and sometimes defies the laws of gravity.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Noteworthy traits – deep blue eyes, action-movie physique

 

Noel Dahl – photographer/humanitarian

 

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

                                                                  Noel Dahl

Where you’ve seen him – charity events, cover of Las Vegas Night Beat

Most photographers like to let their pictures do the talking while they remain in the background. For Noel Dahl, those photos recently put him in the center of a controversy that played out on a Las Vegas television station.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

You might remember Dahl from an expose I penned earlier this year. In it, I described how the highly-respected photographer was having his tasteful work slammed by ABC affiliate KTNV-TV as “lewdness”.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

As always, this man with a generous and forgiving soul moved forward and continued to support the community as he has done for years. From raising fund for AIDS programs to providing food for the needy, Dahl approaches life with dignity and respect for all.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

                         Noel Dahl and friends serving food to the homeless…

Last year Noel created a pin-up calendar featuring all-male subjects and donated 100 percent of the proceeds to charity:

Throughout my years as a photographer, I have had the privilege of shooting countless men for my own portfolio, but I have always striven to find a way of utilizing my photography skills to give back to the Las Vegas community. I hope to bring together local talent, the photographer community, and with the help of a few graciously supportive company sponsorships, I hope to rally support for the HIV/AIDS community and unite the LGBT community in Las Vegas.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

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Noel’s work for traditional family-style landmarks like weddings, engagements and portraits are stunning pieces of art. And his sexy fitness/physique photography draws performers from numerous Las Vegas productions like Aussie Heat, Zumanity, WOW – World of Wonder and Men of Sapphire.

“I love my job but what I love more is working with beautiful souls” said Noel. Those souls include gorgeous animals like his cat Jelly, who recently crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.

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“It’s hard to be alone in my house/studio and not have him. He was always next to me, following me around. I have over thirty-one thousand pics, and almost half of them are of Jelly”.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Hubby Justin Dahl, who’s an events services manager for MGM Resorts, shares Noel’s grief over their lost fellow. But they have several other cats in the family to keep the couple’s hearts warm. As Justin told me “What can I say? I’m a sucker for a cute face”.

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That would explain why he and Noel make for such a photogenic couple. Good thing they’re both as great in front of the camera as Noel is behind it.

Noteworthy traits – love for all creatures, unbeatable personal style

 

Ryan Worley – dancer/model/NPC competitor

 

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                                                            Ryan Worley

Where you’ve seen him – Chippendales, charity events, NeuroLYFT fitness training

Sometimes it’s rough to be the new guy on a team. Not so for Ryan Worley. This twenty-seven year old hunk joined Chippendales last summer and hit the ground running. Ryan immediately became an audience favorite, attracting a legion of fans with his winning smile, shredded physique and fun-loving spirit.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Ryan’s colleagues at Chippendales tell me that they’re smitten by his infectious spirit and outrageous sense of humor. They say he’s unpredictable, spontaneous and wonderfully good-natured. I hear he’s a pretty good guitar player, too.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Those fun-loving qualities undoubtedly help Worley and his cast-mates get through arduous rehearsals, numerous public appearances and a wide variety of charity events.

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Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

It was only last July that the Danville, California native auditioned for Chippendales. Excitedly posting the news on his Facebook page that he was joining the world-famous revue, Ryan packed up and headed for Sin City. He quickly adjusted to a new life of celebrity encounters, calendar shoots and a real highlight: sharing the stage with reknowned dancer/choreographer/philanthropist Tony Dovolani.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

While all of this sudden fame might to go the heads of lesser men, Ryan has remained humble and somewhat awestruck by the experience. He’s earned his place in the spotlight by remaining true to his goals and pushing towards success:

Never stop working toward your dreams regardless of what people think!! People will always try to push their insecurities and fears on you!

Having been raised in the Mormon religion, it must have raised a few eyebrows when Ryan announced he was about to become a sexy performer in Sin City. “It was a crazy transition”, he laughed. Ryan promises to tell me about that journey and lots more for an upcoming profile article. Stay tuned.

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This summer, the fitness enthusiast and NPC competitor will be working even harder to prepare for his next bodybuilding show. Worley will be squaring off against other hard-bodied athletes in the “classic physique” category for the NPC Las Vegas Classic at UNLV‘s campus on November third.

I competed in bodybuilding in the NPC (National Physique Committee) back in 2014. Fitness is a huge passion of mine. It’s been the only constant in my life.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

If that wasn’t already enough to fill Ryan’s slate, he’s teamed up with fellow Chippendale star Matthew Marshall to launch a new fitness brand called NeuroLYFT. The site and service promise an innovative approach to wellness:

Matt and I teach all the hacks to fitness. In addition, we focus on getting your mindset right for you to continue a healthy lifestyle. Meditation, nutrition and training are what we focus on…and in that order.

Most personal trainers only take you through workouts and then you are left on your own with the most important aspects of fitness. That’s why people fail.

At NeuroLYFT, we make the protocol to wellness easier. From life to the kitchen to the gym. We take your goals and reformat your life to show you the easiest, most effective way to transcend you past your fitness goals.

Staying in shape is not only a passion of mine but my career as well. It’s what I love to do. I want to share my passion with others and help them achieve their ideal physique…whatever that may be.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

One look at the above photo proves that Ryan Worley knows how to inspire others. Where do we sign up?

Noteworthy traits – minimal body-fat level, maximum heartthrob appeal

 

Patrick Rivera – photographer/model/musician

 

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

                                                          Patrick Rivera

Where you’ve seen him – wherever gorgeous people are to be found

Apparently it’s not that unusual for professional photographers to look fantastic in front the lens, too. Such is the case for Patrick Rivera, a highly-respected camera-jockey whose services are sought after by many of the movers and shakers of Sin City.

Patrick’s gorgeous wife Mariah Nieslanik Rivera, dance captain and performer in FANTASY at Luxor, was behind the camera for this portrait shot above. But as she joked later, “He did the settings and everything… I just clicked the button”.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Having covered lots of red carpet events, I know that lugging camera equipment around can be quite a workout. In Patrick’s case, those efforts have paid off in spades. This mountain of imposing muscle looks fierce, especially when he’s relieved of his shirt. Whatever is in that camera case is working.

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Patrick’s work is everywhere in Sin City….on billboards, in nightclubs, on magazine covers and in performer portfolios. His commercial clients cover the gamut from Chippendales to skin care lines and fitness services.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

While Patrick enjoys the lighthearted aspects of his career, he’s quick to point out the seriousness of a picture’s lasting impression. He believes that one photograph has the ability to shape the way you feel and bring you into the moment with just one look.

To fully capture the spirit of an artistic subject, it is essential that the photographer embodies the lived experiences of many…having to dwell in darkness to dance in the light.

Art captures the intersection and interpretation of life’s saints and serpents, life’s triumphs and  tragedies…reflecting the close calls, the soulful escapes, the beauty and raw emotion of our kindred spirit.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Patrick and Mariah share an entertaining and heartwarming view of Las Vegas. They’ve even hosted their own show on WCOBM.TV called “All About It! with Pat & Mariah“.

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The fun-loving couple are currently enjoying some well-deserved sunshine on the sands of Hawaii. While they’re relaxing, Patrick’s latest project has been stirring up some excitement in the media. It’s a session with gifted singer/actress Ruby Lewis, who’s about to light up the Strip in her forthcoming production MARILYN – The New Musical. Enjoy!

 

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                                     Patrick with MARILYN star Ruby Lewis

Noteworthy traits – muscles and tattoos, ability to make stars shine brighter

 

Photos: Nick Ayler/Preston Thompson/Noel Dahl/Justin Dahl/Patrick Rivera/Ryan Worley via Facebook, Gelena Vainblat, Wander Aguir Photography, Noel Dahl Photo Studio, Patrick Rivera Studio. Cover photo by Jean N. Young

Sexy Vegas Power Duos: Lupita and Michal Furmanczyk


Absinthe’s rippling acrobat and Golden Nugget’s model dealer make pulses races from center-Strip to the heart of Downtown….

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that I’m obsessed with gorgeous people. From the lusciously stunning Savannah Cross to the hunky likes of Willie Gomez and Chris Hodgson, Vegas Unfiltered is unapologetic in its constant praising of the stunning people of Vegas.

But what makes them beautiful goes way beyond their physical traits. Unique architecture and world-class offerings are what may attract visitors to Las Vegas, but it’s the men and women who give it a heart and soul. Humanitarians like Noel Dahl and Eric Roy, talented chefs like Steve Young and voice-perfect singers like Anne Martinez are what really makes Sin City a very special place to visit and enjoy.

Two very different people from distant parts of the world were drawn to Las Vegas to fulfill their dreams. When their paths crossed under random circumstances it was like lightning in a bottle. The couple hasn’t been apart ever since.

Now the entire valley is an enormous, joyful playground for this pair to share their passion for Las Vegas…and each other. Ladies and gentlemen…meet Lupita and Michal Furmanczyk.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

The former Miss Lupita Ruiz comes from a small town in Veracruz, Mexico. “It’s the kind of town everyone knows each other and everything is within walking distance”, she told me. The middle of three children (an older brother and younger sister), Lupita graduated high school in El Paso, Texas then immediately whisked off to Reno Nevada to further her education.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

After a semester at University of Nevada Reno, Lupita dropped out to pursue a career in poker. “I used a fake ID to be able to gamble in the casinos because I was underage” she confided. “During my short poker career I met all the professional poker players and my best friend Jerry Buss (owner of the Lakers, who passed away from cancer). And, a number of celebrities from David Beckham to my favorite George Lopez“.

After four years in Reno, it was off to Florida to major in Valencia College‘s dental hygiene program. With her degree nearly completed, the call of Las Vegas drew her back to Nevada. “I came here for school but i didn’t really have to come here for it. I’m just impulsive and one day felt like changing the scenery”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Although Lupita planned to finish her degree, the fates had other plans. “I missed the deadline due to my credits taking too long being transferred. Instead of skipping the semester I decided to attend their Performing Arts School”. That’s where destiny put Lupita in the path (and arms) of a towering hunk from Warsaw, Poland.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Michal Furmanczyk is also one of three children. His older brother Kamil is an engineer and sister Kasia, the eldest, is a teacher. Despite Michal’s muscular exterior, he too is an intellectual. “I graduated from the University in Poland in 2008 with a degree in psychology. My dad had wanted me to be a policeman but I had very different plans for my future, haha!”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Somehow, that career in psychology gave way to performing astounding acrobatic feats in front of live audiences. “Many people might think that I attended some “circus school” or something associated with sports. Partially its true” he laughed “as lots of my classmates in high school were Olympic Champions”. Like his future wife, Michal followed his inner voices…and they led him to what would become a well-known big top on the Strip.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

         Michal and partner Lucas (standing) during their hand-balancing act…

“I’m the only person in the family who end up working in circus. In the winter of 2010, my partner Lucas and I were working in Munich when Spiegelworld producer Ross Mollison and artistic director Wayne Harrison’s Cheep (yes, that’s his name) saw us performing. Right afterwards they came up to us and said that they’re opening a new show in Las Vegas. Ross told us he’d like us to be a part of it…how could we refuse such a great opportunity?”

That was seven years ago. Since then, Absinthe has become the must-see breakout hit at Caesars Palace. After awhile Misha, as he’s affectionately known, wanted to broaden his formal education, this time in the world of performing arts.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

“I felt need to go back to school and learn something. At first I wanted to try a program from behind the camera but that didn’t match with my show schedule. So, I signed up for acting classes….I thought it might be helpful since I work on stage nightly. There is always something new to learn. Lupita and I were classmates and became friends right away. We met in June of 2014 and by the end of that year we were already living together”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

The two were married in January of 2017 and has been sharing the life that so many couples dream of. They travel frequently to Hawaii (Maui is their special place) and relish outdoor activities like hiking and swimming…when they aren’t working out to keep their bodies in such impressive condition.

The couple’s dogs Romeo (a Florida pooch with his own fan page) and Coco (whose heartbroken appearance won them over at a shelter) love to frolic in the water. As Misha tells it, “Meyo (Romeo’s nickname) goes nuts when he sees the water. He used to jump over the fence at the house where we lived before, just so he could swim in the neighbor’s pool”.

The foursome sometimes take day trips to Willow Beach, Arizona so the pit bulls and their parents can frolic in the water. It’s a scenic locale that’s great for plenty of photo ops. “We both enjoy photography…Lupita in front of the camera and I like to be on both sides”.

It’s easy to see why Lupita’s career in modeling is as successful as being a model dealer at downtown’s Golden Nugget Hotel Casino. And of course having her husband behind the lens brings out the best in both of them. But that hasn’t stopped the professional photographers from making Lupita one of their favorite subjects.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Of course, a sexy young couple living in Sin City is bound to indulge in all that the Strip has to offer. Lupita and Michal enjoy dressing up for a night on the town, taking in the delicious foods (Lupita’s partial to the chicken tikki masala at TUMERIC – Taste of India on Fremont Street), great entertainment and spectacular views. Sometimes they just like to clown around together.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

SHOWSTOPPERS at Wynn/Encore was their favorite production…until the show came to a close. Now Michal is high on OPIUM at Cosmopolitan. “OPIUM’s the newest show from Spiegelworld. It’s hilarious and totally different from any other show you have seen anywhere. Totally must-see!” (look for my review in an upcoming column).

The pair currently owns two homes, a condo Downtown and another on the south end of the Strip. “I love real estate and home decor projects” Michal told me. “Lupita has a great vision and searches for inspiration online to find out what would look nice and match in our places”. His wife added “We both are artistic people so anything creative we enjoy”.

One thing this writer admires about the Furmanczyks is that they totally embrace their sex appeal. They have no hang-ups about their physical selves and don’t feel the need to hide what their hard work and dedication have created.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Says Michal “We just know who we are and we do we what we want. I don’t work out to keep my body under a t-shirt. Sometimes yes, but in general I like to wear nice fitted clothes. Many guys don’t really know their bodies and they just follow others without being conscious that they can dress nicer”.

Being an influential power couple in the City of Entertainment might be a dream come true, but both of these fine individuals have worked hard to overcome difficulties and humbler times. Michal is especially grateful for achieving respect as a performer after a personal tragedy nearly crippled him.

“In 2007, I had an accident where I broke both of my legs and completely shattered my ankles. A doctor told me that my career was over. I wasn’t able to walk for about a year. Then I started walking slowly for another year…like an old man. After that I was able to start slowly running. Now I’m proudly rocking the stage every night”.

 Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

He closed out our interview with one final thought. “We’ve got to remember to never give up and be very strong. Luckily I had great, true friends that never left my side and kept my spirits high. I’m very thankful to each person who helped me at that difficult time. And I remember very well who was there for me”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Now that the Furmanczyks have found one another, their futures should be very bright indeed.

ABSINTHE performs Tuesday through Sunday at Caesars Palace. Show schedule is available by clicking here. VegasFool.com has discount seats available via this link
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Photos: Michal and Lupita Furmanczyk, Miguel Vazquez, Ramiro Cervantes,  Jose Karelin Gonzalez

Vegas Pastry Chef Earns Top Nationwide Honor In NYC


Westgate’s Chef Stephen Sullivan “Takes The Cake” at 29th Annual Pastry Competition…

Admit it, Vegas fans…you love sweets. Chocolate, ice cream, pastries and desserts…the city is absolutely teeming with places to satisfy your cravings. We’ve got M & M’s World, Hershey’s Chocolate World, Ethel M. Candy Factory, Sugar Factory, The Chocolate Lounge and the World’s Biggest Chocolate Fountain at Bellagio.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

With all of those superlatives, it should come as no surprise that the nation’s top pastry chef calls Las Vegas his home. And since he acquired that title just a few weeks ago, you can be assured that the opportunity to savor the country’s best pastries and desserts will be available on your next trip. Just head over to Westgate Las Vegas and ask to sample the world-class creations of Chef Stephen Sullivan.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Before delving into how he achieved the title of U.S. 2018 Pastry Chef of the Year, let’s take a look at how things began. Just like all legendary journeys, Chef Stephen’s story plays larger than life. His path to the pastry shop began in the United States Marine Corps while serving during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Chef Sullivan was assigned to the kitchens and learned to bake for the overseas troops. With no previous background in baking or culinary training, his career seemed like destiny…and was about to become stellar.

Marine training gave me discipline. To make things at this level, you have to have training and discipline. God gave me artistic talent and the ability to care for quality and craftsmanship. Lots of what I learned ended up being self-taught.

To that end, Chef Sullivan opened up his way of thinking beyond the kitchen. He began by reading numerous books on pastry creation. That expanded to visiting museums and studying the shapes of sculptures, ceramics, pottery and glass artworks…something that he continues to do in his leisure time.

Sullivan’s formal education also became expansive, earning him certificates from Notter School of Pastry Arts, Jean Marie Auboine Chocolates and Pastry School, Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy the World Pastry Forum and many more.

The Long Beach California’s mentor in Iowa was Master Chef Richard Schneider, a member of the American Culinary Federation and a faculty member for Le Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas.

Chef Schneider has decades of experience in the hotel and casino industries, so it’s no surprise that his protege began a professional career in those types of kitchens as well. Chef Sullivan actually ended up as Executive Pastry Chef for his mentor’s son Chef Justin Schneider to open the new MGM Grand Casino Hotel in Detroit in 1999.

Hotel environments are great to spur creativity because I’ve been able to get better at different things…like coming up with great flavors and textures. Experimenting with various ingredients…sugars versus chocolates. Demands are unique at hotels than at regular restaurants or pastry shops. You get unpredictable requests. I can make something small that touches people or roll out something massive.

Massive, epic creations are indeed what had landed Chef Stephen his biggest accolades to date. While serving as Executive Pastry Chef for the renowned Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, he designed and constructed a detailed, scale model of Golden Gate Bridge entirely out of chocolate. The giant “dessert” was commissioned in honor of the actual bridge’s 75th anniversary and was unveiled at the nearby Ghirardelli Square.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

    Chef Sullivan’s chocolate recreation of the Golden Gate Bridge on display…

Work on the project involved about forty hours of making the various sections and another three to assemble them. But researching the actual structure (he visited the bridge itself to accurately depict sections that were partly obscured by the surrounding landscape) and coming up with the designs took much, much longer.

“I enjoy making 360-degree desserts” he told me. “Things that can be examined so they’ll look great from all angles. I want you to be able to see as many different details in the back and sides as from just looking straight on”.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Using that same philosophy, Chef Stephen must have reasoned “Why stop at things you can walk around when you can bake something that can be physically walked through?” By that I mean a life-sized gingerbread house, made from thousands of molasses and ginger “bricks”.  Those rectangular cakes were mortared together with frosting and capped by a nineteen-foot roof covered in chocolate shingles.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Chef Sullivan and his Fairmont Hotel colleague, Executive Chef jW Foster, constructed the gorgeous gingerbread house in 2010, an annual holiday tradition at the luxurious hotel. Guests and visitors were invited to walk freely through it.  As you might imagine, the gingerbread house was another media sensation, even receiving coverage in Martha Stewart Living magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

After making significant impact in Michigan and California, the future star of Westgate‘s already-stellar culinary team relocated to Sin City. This was to accept a position as Assistant Executive Pastry Chef at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas.

As much as he loved Las Vegas, the Californian’s home state was soon calling with an offer he couldn’t refuse…a position as Executive Pastry Chef for the iconic Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. One of the largest and most luxurious in the Four Seasons portfolio, the Beverly Wilshire gave Chef Stephen the opportunity to present his creations for some of the most discerning and famous clientele in the nation.

No matter what he came up with, Chef Sullivan made sure his desserts were rich in visual appeal to add to their fantastic taste. I asked him if he felt any type of emotional loss when his spectacular cakes and creations were cut into and consumed. “Not at all” he replied. “That’s their purpose. And I’ll always have the pictures”.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

One picture that will forever grace Chef Sullivan’s portfolio is above. It depicts his winning entries for the 29th Annual Pastry Chef Competition at the 2018 International Restaurant & Foodservice Show in New York City last month. This was an achievement eight years in the making…and Sullivan gives a great deal of credit to Westgate Las Vegas for helping to make it happen.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

The reason I came to Westgate to improve their offerings and operations. Developing a team that works together is the key. Yes, it’s a creative job, but everyone needs to be productive, too. It helps to have people who care.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

                     Chef Sullivan and Chef Steve Young at Edge Steakhouse…

That mutual support was very apparent when Chef Stephen was ready to throw his chef hat back into the competition world. After the super-successful presentation he and Westgate colleagues like Edge Steakhouse Chef Steve Young pulled off for the prestigious James Beard Foundation on Valentine’s Day 2017 (read about that event here), it was time for him and the resort to focus on the U.S. Pastry Competition in New York City.

Sullivan had first experienced this competition in 2010 and was eager to try his hand again. The timing needed to be right, though, as he wanted to be sure that everything at Westgate was running smoothly first. That required a self-sufficient support staff.

It helps to have people who care and are productive. I’m able to be successful because my team takes ownership of the business aspects. It wouldn’t be possible to advance my skills if this position required me to be stuck in an office, not working with the product.

Once he decided that 2018 would be the year to enter again, nearly two years of cumulative preparation were required:

I wanted to take things to New York represented the spirit and quality of Westgate. After all, they were sponsoring my participation and fully supportive. That was reassuring for me. There was never a time when I was nervous. It all came down to planning…lots of planning.

He also wanted to honor those who had dedicated their efforts with Chef Sullivan in the past. As he told So Good pastry magazine, his desire to win would “show respect to all the chefs who took their time to mentor and train me and show them that I did not waste their time”.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

       Being awarded Pastry Chef of 2016 at Las Vegas Food and Wine Festival

Each year’s U.S. Pastry Competition, hosted by Paris Gourmet, is built around a particular theme. The requirements are for one plated dessert, six signature pastries and a highly technical sculpture utilizing chocolate products by show sponsor Cacao Noel. In January 2018 it was announced that all entries would interpret “The Great Race” using any recognized form of racing…boating, cycling, swimming, etc.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Chef Sullivan quickly decided to design his showpiece around the horse racing he regularly sees on the world’s largest LED screen at Westgate Superbook. Once again, he committed plenty of personal time for research, studying the physical aspects and movements of horses and jockeys. And he wanted to make sure that the smallest details like flower petals and stems were convincing and lifelike.

After sketching the structure, he consulted another mentor who would become his coach for the project…World Chocolate Master and Executive Pastry Chef Vincent Pilon (of Cosmopolitan Hotel Casino). Together, they had less than two months to plan and design the entry in physical terms.

Chef Sullivan’s fascination with three-dimensional detailing depicted a horse and rider that seemingly leap out of the chocolate sculpture. To make it a reality, they had to fabricate various sections (horse, rider, trophy, flowers, etc) by selecting ingredients for color/shape/texture/flavor and a feasible means of bringing them all together. As you might imagine, the hours involved were intensive.

Once Chefs Sullivan and Pilon had everything created to their satisfaction, there was the matter of safely transporting all of it from Las Vegas to New York City. The delicate materials would require proper care to ensure that temperature and movement wouldn’t cause damage. Spare pieces were made as back-ups and everything was packed into custom-made wooden cases for the long flight.

Also traveling for the Westgate team were Chef Aaron Losch, head of the resort’s culinary operations (learn about him soon in an upcoming profile) and baker Alfonso Menendez.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

       Alfonso Menendez (left) and Chef Stephen at the U.S. Pastry Competion…

Mr. Menendez is Sullivan’s right-hand man and has twenty-five years of experience in the field. He came to Westgate with Chef Sullivan from the Beverly Wilshire to continue working together in the resort’s pastry shop. “The pastry family is small”, Sullivan told me. “We take care of those who have helped us”. Obviously it’s a partnership that Las Vegas pastry fans can be excited about.

All of that planning, effort, sponsorship, mentorship and collaboration came together when Chef Sullivan’s showpiece crossed the finish line in first place. He and the team brought home the title, trophy and the sculpture itself, which was displayed inside the Westgate Resort’s lobby.

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It’s pretty remarkable to take top honors in an event of this scale after only the second attempt, but Chef Sullivan knew he had come there to win. Reflecting on the experience with me in a quiet section of the resort’s Restaurant Row last month, I was struck by how humble and truly genuine this gentleman is.

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                  Wife Eva Sullivan joined Chef Stephen in New York City…

More than anything else, he seemed grateful to the people who believed in and sponsored him. And the mentors and colleagues who gave him their time. Most especially, he cherished the limitless support of wife Eva, who was by his side when the big moment came.

I got the impression that the happy couple enjoys the quieter side of Las Vegas. Despite living in a city of glitz and glamour, some of the best times they have are right at home. Sullivan told me they appreciate sharing their lives with parrot Puff and cats Zorrita (rescued in Atlanta) and Maya, whom they brought from Los Angeles.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Now that he’s crossed another major accomplishment off his list, Chef Sullivan envisions taking his skills to the international level. But first he wants to continue improving his contributions at Westgate Las Vegas. He feels that recent experiences at the competition will assist with that.

I always want to be a better manager and chef than the year before. Competing gives you the opportunity to advance your skills…not just in pastry-making, but in management and team-building. This experience allowed me to carry my team upward.

Those who own and run Westgate are a class-act. If your company doesn’t invest in you, then you can’t properly train your team and the guests won’t benefit. We do the same things here that I did in Beverly Hills. Westgate runs a smart business. They make the guest feel appreciated and still gives them value.

Anybody who comes here should feel good about spending their money.

Having spent three years at Westgate and being a part of the group that has reinvented this classic resort is something Chef Steven Sullivan will continue to treasure. It’s the little things, though, that he doesn’t want to overlook.

On a personal level, I want everything I make to continue being top level…and to still touch people. Hand-crafting a nice plated dessert or a good cookie are just as exciting as creating something on an epic scale.

With all the political crap going on in this world, the one thing that brings people together is food. Being a part of it is something special. That’s very exciting.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Chef Stephen Sullivan’s pastries, desserts and cakes are served throughout Westgate Las Vegas at banquets, special events, and daily at restaurants like Edge Steakhouse, Fresco Italiano, Sid’s Cafe and Fortuna.

Photos: Sammasseur. artandentertainme.blogspot.com, Chef Stephen Sullivan, Alfonso Menendez, Westgate Las Vegas, Beverly Wilshire via Facebook, U.S. Pastry Competition via Facebook, San Francisco Chronicle

 

 

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The Many Sides of Savannah Cross


Palazzo’s infectious dancer brings razzle-dazzle to BAZ: A Musical Mash-up

Ever since its humble beginnings inside a small Los Angeles nightspot, BAZ: A Musical Mash-up has boasted a fluid cast. Performers and celebrity guests regularly step into and out of six iconic and several supporting roles. They often swap characters and lines…sometimes within the same performance, making each night a unique experience.

The genre-bending BAZ musical, a creation by LA-based For The Record, recently celebrated its 500th performance inside a custom-designed venue at Palazzo Resort. Although its tradition of rotating casts continues, one performer has been there through four different dance partners. Her name is Savannah Cross…and she’s someone you’ll want to experience on your next trip to the Strip.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah grew up in Sandy, Utah, just south of Great Salt Lake. She spent her earliest years learning to dance at several studios around her home state.

I started dancing at the age of 6.  Watching my older cousin compete is really what drew me into dance.  I remember thinking to myself, this is it, this is what I want to do.  From the time I started training at 6, I just never stopped and got even more immersed into dance.

During my first couple years of dancing, I saw the movie Center Stage and fell in love.  I loved the idea that dance was something I could make a career out of and watching this movie made it all even more real.  I also loved the work, energy and sacrifice that the dancers in the movie put into this crazy art form.

During high school, the ambitious teen traveled around the country with Hollywood Connection, a company dedicated to preparing dancers for their commercial careers. Despite her young age, Savannah performed in a variety of productions that displayed skills in hip-hop, contemporary and ballroom styles.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

After graduating from high school, the dynamic young lady enrolled at the University of Utah‘s College of Fine Arts. While there, Savannah was member of their Performing Dance Company, which gave her the opportunity to work with several famed choreographers. As a result of her hard work and the enormous potential she displayed, Savannah received the prestigious Dizzy Feet Foundation Scholarship for her 2014-2015 year.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

While less ambitious college students were spending their summers sipping margaritas on Mexican beaches, Ms. Cross was in Leeds, England, receiving intensive training at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. And somewhere in those college years she managed to become a finalist on Paula Abdul‘s Live To Dance and appeared in a music video for singer Shaun Barrowes.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Modern Dance, Savannah became an instructor at Utah’s Elite Academy, a unique dance studio that teaches children as young as preschool age.  There she inspired other up-and-coming dancers and shared the knowledge she’d gained from an already extensive background.

Aside from dancing, I have really found a passion in teaching.  I started teaching dance when I was 18 and instantly fell in love. I was so lucky to have such incredible and diverse teachers growing up and because of this I felt very informed when I first started teaching.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

It was obvious that the girl from a small town in Utah was destined to accomplish great things. With the unending support of her loving mom…and her father as a faithful companion/escort to countless auditions, Savannah’s determination would soon pay off.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

I have the most amazing support system and especially wouldn’t be where I am today without my mom and dad. They sacrificed so much to let me follow my dreams.  Every vacation we ever took as a family was always for dance.  A large part of me sticking with this art that can be so hard and grueling is because of those two.  They never gave up on me and every second of everyday, they believed in me.

I have one sibling, a 12 year old sister named Dylann.  She is now starting to dance and train heavily and it makes my heart so happy.  Watching her flourish makes me want to be the absolute best version of myself each day.

As with so many other promising artists, Savannah Cross decided to try her luck in New York City. Although she had success there, a turn of luck would lead her to the bright lights and neon of the Las Vegas Strip.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

The innovative Los Angeles-based cabaret troupe For The Record Live was catching on like wildfire. Their musical interpretations of the film works from directors  Quentin Tarantino and John Hughes were drawing raves…and crowds. Their biggest hit so far was For the Record: BAZ, built around the scenes and music of avante-garde Aussie filmmaker Baz Luhrmann.

The production, interweaving love stories from Luhrmann’s contemporary re-imaginings of The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet was given a short stint at Mandalay Bay’s LIGHT Nightclub. Plagued by problems with the venue and its relationship with Cirque du Soleil, BAZ closed prematurely…but refused to die.

In 2016, Palazzo Resort announced a relaunch of the newly-named BAZ: Star Crossed Love. Cirque was now out of the picture and Venetian/Palazzo pledged full support of the acclaimed musical. This latest version of the long-evolving production would open with a mostly-new cast, a reworking of songs and scenes and a custom theater designed to showcase its cabaret-style roots.

What would eventually become my 2017 Best Production Show in Las Vegas was about to gain a brand-new ballroom star. This time, Savannah would be required to sing, act and play characters in addition to swirling around the stage. Here’s how she became a part of BAZ…in her own words:

I really never imagined I would be a part of a show like BAZ. Before I joined the cast, I was dancing for two contemporary companies in New York and I really thought that was my path. When I initially joined the show, I was somewhat hesitant having to sing and act, but now have come to realize that I have such a passion for the two. I do strongly believe that my background in dance and immense training that I did all over the world and in different styles, informed and directed me as a strong actor.  

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

My initial start into the show was such a whirlwind! I received a phone call from a fellow dancer/friend who I hadn’t heard from in years. She started the conversation totally casual, and a few minutes into the conversation asked me if I would be interested in BAZ. I fell in love with the structure of the show and the incredible talent she described to me. Within days, I got a phone call that I was chosen for the role of Fran! I felt so incredibility lucky to be cast in the show without For the Record and the management team ever seeing me in person.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Everything happened so quickly, with only 3 days to learn the entire show, I became the first new cast member to come into BAZ. I instantly knew that I was meant to be here doing this amazing show. As of now, Scorsese: American Crime Requiem (based on the mafia films of Martin Scorcese) is the only other For the Record show I have seen, but it absolutely blew me away!!! I saw the show in Los Angeles with some others members of BAZ and I sat there thinking to myself, how lucky am I to be part of such an insanely talented family.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

I have now had four different partners in the show and I will say that I have really been lucky with each boy. Two of the four partners are also from Utah and we actually grew up dancing together, which made the transition pretty simple. But I will say that there is an emotional toll when a partner leaves.

You end up building such a connection and relationship with each other in which you fully trust each other. I do think that it often feels like a “break up” to some extent and can take a minute to rebuild an entirely new connection with someone else.

Being able to build a connection between herself and others is definitely one of Savannah’s gifts. Whether it’s with her fellow performers, the people in the audience or her own students, Miss Cross is magnetic, energetic and completely mesmerizing.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

This writer was fortunate enough to have once been Savannah’s student…for a day. As a member of the media, I was invited to participate in BAZ Boot Camp last summer, an event that allowed members of the press to live a day as a performer at the Palazzo Theater.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

  Savannah (center, rear) keeps a watchful eye on yours truly during rehearsal…

Despite my having two left feet and a pair of wobbly legs, Savannah and her dance partner Marcquet Hill rallied and turned us into dancers in a few short hours. Savannah’s positive reinforcement and patience were especially memorable.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Fortunately, the next round of students Savannah and cast mate Patrick Ortiz shared the BAZ experience with were fledgling local youth performers. During the past two years, the show’s team has partnered with Positively Arts Foundation to provide mentorship, collaboration and inspiration for students intent on pursuing a career in performance.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

The cast of BAZ also put on the Positively Arts Holiday Spectacular at the Palazzo Theater last December. Featuring more than sixty Positively Arts students, the show brought performances of seasonal songs like “Silent Night,” “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “This Christmas,” “Carol of the Bells” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” to the stage with all proceeds benefiting the Foundation. For Savannah, teaching and performing on the same stage is something she will no doubt always relish:

I think its beyond amazing that I get to share something I love so dearly with others and help them find their own passion within the art.  Watching my students grow is the most inspiring and informative lesson for myself.

Now that BAZ: A Musical Mash-up has surpasseded the 500th-performance mark and is about to celebrate its two-year anniversary on the Strip, it’s clear that something special is going on inside the Palazzo Theater. With people like Savannah Cross to teach, inspire and entertain, here’s hoping that she and the cast of BAZ reach for the stars with five hundred more…and beyond.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

BAZ: A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 pm. Tickets start at $64 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. VegasFool is currently offering discounted seats starting at $39(plus taxes/fees). Access that offer by clicking here.

Photos: Whitney Lauren Photography, Richard Brusky, Post Productions Photography, Marc Reynolds, Abe Larmas Photography, Erik Kabik, KTNV Morning Blend, Sands Corp.

Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Chef Masato Shiga


International man of mystery lets his Asian cuisine do the talking…

Last summer I introduced readers to Bar Sake, the newly-launched Japanese Robata-style grill restaurant that I referred to “Westgate’s Hidden Gem”.

Unique in location, offerings and atmosphere, Westgate’s Bar Sake & Robata Grill is the perfect little venue to gather at with friends, a loved one…or to discover all by yourself.

Bar Sake‘s menu is as much about the great food as the unique beverage offerings. And while I had the privilege to discuss cocktail creation with Chief Mixologist Eddie Perales during that initial visit, Chef Masato Shiga stood off to the side and was noticeably quiet. I was to learn later that this is the norm for Chef Shiga. He’d much rather communicate via his food than chat with you about it.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Naturally, I wanted to discover what inspired and influenced the man behind these sumptuous dishes. And of course, to sample (quite) a bit more of his delicious creations…so we sat down to talk on a return visit before I enjoyed another great meal courtesy of Chef Shiga. Despite sampling plate after plate, it was me who did most of the talking.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

I was surprised to learn that as Executive Chef, Shiga oversees not one but four distinctive restaurants within Westgate‘s “The Village”. Taking up a substantial portion of the resort’s restaurant row, the two-story Village complex is home to world-renowned Benihana, Silk Road Asian Bistro, Rikki Tiki Sushi…and of course, Bar Sake.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

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Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

       Rikki Tiki Sushi overlooks the flowing water and gardens in The Village

Presenting such a vast array of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese specialties would be a daunting task for any cuisinier, but Chef Masa (the name he most frequently goes by) is no ordinary culinary expert. He brings a lifetime of authenticity and experience to the kitchen…and your table. He began cooking in Japan and has continued to expand his collection of recipes through an illustrious career at top Vegas restaurants.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

                                               Chigasaki, Kanagawa

Chef Shiga was born in Chigasaki, a resort community on the Sagami Sea in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan. This largely tourist-based city is home to about 240,000 permanent residents. Considered to be a sister-city to Honolulu, Chigasaki is rich with Hawaiian and other Pan-Asian influences. It also lays claim to being the birthplace of Japanese surfing.

Growing up while surrounded by such a rich fusion of cultures undoubtedly presented many memorable dining experiences for the young Shiga. With Tokyo merely an hour’s trip away, it would have been easy for him to savor and learn how to prepare many regional delicacies and those from around his country and the world.

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At the age of nineteen, Shiga began his education in culinary school. Along with Far East cuisine, he learned the fine art of French cooking…quite an interesting combination! And much like his previously-profiled colleague Chef Bruno Morabito (of Westgate‘s Sid’s Cafe), Shiga developed an affection for whipping up all-American breakfast dishes. Perhaps that’s why he eventually migrated to the heartland of the United States.

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       Vintage postcard image of Mikado Japanese Cuisine, Mirage Resort…

When we arrived here, I looked around and was…WOW! So much to see….so big! I knew this was where I wanted to be. We stopped at The Mirage and I went straight into Mikado Japanese Restaurant to apply. I’ve been in Las Vegas ever since.

After Mikado, Chef Masa moved next door to become assistant chef at Caesars Palace‘s famed Hyakumi. That was the first of several positions within the resort. Then came Bacchanal Buffet, probably the most famous high-end buffet in the world. After its successful launch, he moved over to the highly-acclaimed Nobu Japanese Restaurant at Caesars‘ own Nobu Hotel.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

As has happened with so many other wonderful Vegas chefs, Shiga’s next step led him to Westgate Las Vegas. He oversees operations of all four of their Asian restaurants. On some evenings you may find him behind the robata grill that he personally selected for the opening of Bar Sake. It’s there that you’ll see him searing skewers stuffed with succulent meats, colorful vegetables and glorious seafood in an ancient and revered method.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Despite being an extremely reserved and private man, Chef Shiga loves the camaraderie of being on the Westgate team. He enjoys the mutual support of his colleagues and appreciates the ability to have creative control over the meals he creates for guests.

The Chef recounted an especially memorable time with his professional family at a company golf outing:

We were all dressed alike. Nobody had different kinds of shirts. Managers played side by side with staffers. Everyone was equal there. You could be talking to your boss, an executive, a server…it didn’t matter. I like that about working for Westgate.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

The culinary artist was quite reluctant to discuss his personal life, as he values his privacy. He did tell me that he’s married and returns to Japan on yearly excursions to visit friends and family. He also enjoys attending American football games. But what he really likes to do is head out to the greens for a round of golf…even when he travels abroad.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Luckily for Chef Shiga, Westgate’s neighbor to the east happens to be the gorgeous Las Vegas Country Club. The two destinations have a long-standing relationship that offers hotel guests the opportunity to visit the private club via Westgate Golf Packages. So when the golfing bug hits him at home, Chef Masa doesn’t have very far to go.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

With all of that responsibility and ambition, Chef Shiga somehow maintains a calming presence that suits the soothing atmosphere of the restaurants he operates. Those admirable talents and twenty-plus years in the business have made Westgate Las Vegas a go-to place for lovers of fine Far East cuisine.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

                Benihana fires up traditional Japanese steakhouse fare…

Chef Shiga is proud to offer unique items in an environment that exudes small-town charm. His dishes are pieces of art unto themselves, which is exactly how he likes it.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Now that there’s talk of an Oyster Bar possibly being added to the line-up at The Village, Chef Shiga may have trim back on his number of golf outings. But it’s unlikely that he’ll give up a place behind his treasured Robata grill. It’s the one sure thing tho make him smile.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Silk Road Asian Bistro, Rikki Tiki Sushi and Benihana open daily at 5pm. Bar Sake & Robata Grill operates limited hours – call (702) 732-5755 for more information.

Photos: Sammasseur, Westgate Las Vegas/Chef Masato Shiga via Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

After The Fall – “Le Reve” Acrobat Ryan Lyons

Chronicling the pain, suffering and risks that Vegas acrobats endure to entertain you.


Last weekend, former Le Reve performer Yann Arnaud suffered a fatal fall while performing in Cirque du Soleil’s VOLTA in Tampa. Fellow Le Reve acrobat Ryan Lyons suffered a shockingly similar accident during a live performance at Wynn Las Vegas several years ago.

Since this article was published on another site in August of 2015, Lyons has gotten married and relocated to Australia. He now works, among other things, as an aerial choreographer for singer Pink. What follows is a reprint of how the article originally appeared.

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Ryan Lyons is a “generalist” in Le Reve – The Dream.  Five nights a week he flips, flies, dances and dives for thousands of people. He has done so ever since the show opened more than ten years ago. While he considers his experience at Wynn Las Vegas to be a dream come true, for a short while it became something much darker.

Le Reve

One evening during the finale, Lyons suffered a traumatic injury that echoes the one that occurred at MGM Grand/Cirque du Soleil’s KA. Performer Sarah Guyard-Guillot, who also fell during the final sequence, died as a result of her injuries.  That production was shut down for nearly weeks as safety protocols were re-examined. It reopened with a greatly altered finale (which has since been restored).

Ryan Lyons was much luckier than Guyard-Guillot.  After a hospital stay and physical rehabilitation, he returned to Le Reve for another five years.  Complications, pain, and the occasional surgery became a way of life, and he still deals with the physical and psychological aftermath of that accident.

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Now in his eleventh year with Le Reve, Lyons has reached the “What next?” phase of his career.  It’s a question that all performers must face when their bodies are maxed out but the soul still yearns to perform. As he ponders his options, Lyons has begun sharing his journey in a personal blog, which he calls “The Anchors Project”.  In it, he hopes to motivate, inspire creativity and ultimately help others to find what their personal anchors are.

Here are a few excerpts from “The Anchors Project”:

“The finale act comes around, and I jump onto my porters to set up my second trick of (the) act.  As they are launching me into the air, my left foot slips and everything just crumbles from there.  In mid-air, I only hope to have enough rotation that I don’t land head first upside down.  I end up landing back on the dry stage, taking all the force to my face and chest…and slide unconscious into the water.   

I wake up on a spinal board with several athletic trainers and rescue personnel around me.  I learn that I have shattered my nose, fractured some ribs and have multiple contusions to my lungs.”

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You might think the life of a Vegas performer is all glitz and glam.  It’s not bad by any means. We get paid to do what we love, and it often doesn’t feel like a job.  What people don’t realize is how short-lived our career is (I certainly didn’t). They don’t see the ugly side of the job, fighting for contracts, pushing through each show with an ache here and an ache there.  

The “show must go on” mentality of the corporate setting, or the fear of losing your next contract.  We dance and flip around on stage, but we often struggle to “play the game” as we try to find a balance that will keep our passion alive. It is often truly the passion to perform that keeps us going.

Le Reve

Plagued by injuries, overuse of our bodies and sometimes not feeling valued for the risk we take with each performance, you are challenged to make decisions on what is important to you.

What is important to me now, as I reflect on this journey, is my health and well being. I often joke to my friends and say “I want to be able to walk when I’m 40!”. 

I’ve learned that even despite many setbacks, I was still able to live my dream.  That my strength and courage helped me move past my injuries and the obstacles that were placed in front of me.  That my tenacity to keep going, always gets me to where I want to go. I now find myself motivating others to share their passion and to reach beyond their wildest dreams.

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You can read more about Ryan Lyons by visiting his website The Anchors Project.

Photos: Ryan Lyons, Sammasseur