Westgate’s Culinary Superstars – Chef Paola Bugli


Profiling a Chef who brings true Italian authenticity to Westgate’s “Fresco Italiano”…

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Outside the entrance to Fresco Italiano, two adorable Vespa scooters are amusingly parked. Almost symbolically, it seems as though they’ve been waiting for the right pair of riders to hop aboard and take control.

Inside, that very thing has taken place for two Italian immigrants who recently arrived to helm Fresco’s kitchen and operations. Despite the restaurant already being an established hit, this pair has elevated the Tuscan eatery to new heights.

Regular readers might recognize Fresco Italiano as my very first column when I launched this site last summer. Since then, I’ve dined here repeatedly, savoring every wonderful morsel. Not only is the food to die for, but the atmosphere and service scream “Italian authenticity”.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

                            General Manager Dora Pana and Chef Bugli…

As you enjoy the dining experience, your party might be greeted by a lovely blonde with a distinctive Naples accent. General Manager Dora Pane loves to chat with her guests, lending a family-like ambiance to every visit. She’ll remind you of that favorite aunt who invites you to sit down at her kitchen table and “mangiare“. (I’ll be spending time with Ms. Pane for a profile article very soon.)

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

But of course, the big draw for this type of meal is the magic that happens inside the kitchen. That’s where Chef Paola Brugli comes in. This elegant native of Florence is the Executive Chef for Fresco Italiano and an absolute treat to meet. As busy as she is in the kitchen, Ms. Bugli also finds time to engage her guests and share a mutual enthusiasm for great dishes.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Kitchen time was ingrained in Chef Paola’s family traditions. She learned from her mother and grandmother how to make pasta, polenta and sauces. They worked together as a team, each doing something different to prepare a complete meal. Lessons from those collaborative efforts would be invaluable once Bugli decided to pursue a career in the culinary arts.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

                                                           Florence, Italy…

Chef Paola enrolled in the Istituto Professionale Alberghiero Aurelio Saffi of Firenze Italy in 1977. There she achieved degrees in Culinary Arts and Hotel Management, then spent the next several decades honing techniques in fabulous restaurants and destinations throughout Italy.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

The shores of the Unites States eventually welcomed Chef Bugli to a new chapter and more career adventures. First came Atlanta, where she spent a decade in the kitchens of several noteworthy restaurants, holding positions as Sous Chef, Pastry Chef, Chef de Cuisine and Executive Chef.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

                                          Lumiere Place Casino Hotel…

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

                                      House of Savoy Italian Eatery…

Eight years ago Bugli settled into the St. Louis area after capturing the attention of a recruiter for Pinnacle Entertainment. There she spent a year and a half as Executive Chef for the now-shuttered House of Savoy, an authentic riverfront Italian eatery in the gorgeous Lumière Place Casino Hotel. This turned out to be her first position in a gaming resort, but fortunately would not be her last.

As luck would have it, Chef Paola worked under the mentorship of Jeffrey DeVito, current Vice President of Food and Beverage at Westgate Las Vegas. As she told me “It was my first job in a casino and I was a little concerned about that, but Mr. DiVito was always extremely supportive”.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

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During her time in St. Louis, Chef Paolo proudly achieved United States citizenship in a wonderful ceremony held at the new National Archives, which was inaugurated for the occasion. The variety of cultures, climates and opportunities of this nation were now hers to explore without limit.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

                                                     Sea Island Resort…

Next up was the lush Sea Island Resort, south of Savannah on the sunny coast of Georgia. There Bugli served as Chef de Cuisine for Tavola, a formal yet rustic Italian dining experience. Tavola‘s philosophy is “the soul of Italy isn’t just found on the menu. It’s around the table” which might explain why the Florence native was drawn there.

After dabbling in some consulting work in Savannah, it was off to Biloxi, Mississippi for a new position with Beau Rivage Casino Resort. As Room Chef for Stalla Italian Restaurant, Chef Bugli was once again able to bring her authentic style to another part of the United States. ”

Her philosophy of simple, fresh ingredients (“super-simple is the key” she likes to say) made her very popular with the resort’s guests. So much so that she remained there for over four years, creating an indelible mark on the MGM Resorts property.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

     Chef Bugli was featured in “Women in Business” at Beau Rivage Resort…

Alas, a change in corporate management began to crush this independent artist’s creativity, so it was once again time to move on. When asked if it was difficult to make so many changes in her life, her response was candid. “Maybe I’m a masochist but I like the challenges. Sometimes you have to find the right way to part. I don’t believe in creating failures…I like to give opportunities”.

As has been the case of so many gifted culinary artists I’ve profiled, Chef Bugli found new creative horizons via the food and beverage team at Westgate Las Vegas. In January she took over as Executive Chef for Fresco Italiano, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. And she was once again on a team overseen by Jeffrey DiVito.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Coming aboard an established and successful venture would indeed offer Chef Paola some trials and tribulations but she was up to the task.

Everything in a restaurant is a connected process. A kitchen is like a pirate crew…we’re weird. There needs to be creative cohesiveness from front to back.

Working with General Manager Dora Pane, the two have taken the operation and streamlined it to reflect their own styles.

Food is so much about energies…your whole self. Shake people up a bit and you get good results. So we’re improving things like the service steps and our wine offerings. I’m also adjusting the flavor profile and retraining the staff with my cooking methods.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

When asked what procedures she referred to, Chef Bugli explained:

It’s not enough just to follow a recipe’s ingredients. It’s the steps that matter. You see, a sauce isn’t just throwing everything into a pot and letting it boil. Certain ingredients have to be sauteed together first to let their flavors develop. Then others like tomatoes are added afterwards. You can taste the difference by doing things in the proper order.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Attention to detail is also reflected on the ingredients she purchases for her dishes.

The culture at our restaurant is respectful of the environment. In Italy it’s a concept called Zero-Kilometer Cooking. We can’t get all locally-produced foods being in the desert, but we can come pretty close. It’s also necessary to change our offerings depending on the season. A winter tomato won’t taste the same as one in July. People will know the difference!

Making a difference is what Chef Paola’s cooking is all about:

Guests are more educated now. Everyone is a connoisseur, so we approach Fresco Italiano with a friends-and-family atmosphere. This may be casual fine dining, but we want people to leave feeling like they’ve had an experience.

When asked about her new life in Las Vegas, Chef Paola gave a bit of a shrug. “I haven’t had time to get to know Vegas yet, really, except through the people I’ve met at Westgate. When I settle in, maybe I’ll start up a local women’s chef group”.

As for Sin City sights, the Florence native had plenty to say about the Strip. “Las Vegas replicates so many famous landmarks and they’ve done it beautifully. You’ve got Paris, Venice, Rome, Egypt. It’s amazing”.

She did have a word of warning for any future resort planners, though. “Vegas can do anything else they want, but they’d better leave Florence alone. We’re already perfect!” she chuckled wildly.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Fresco Italiano is open for dinner 365 days a year at 5 pm – lunch hours vary by date. For more information or to place reservations call 702.732.5276.

Photos: Sammasseur, Chef Paola Bugli, TripAdvisor, Yelp!, Beau Rivage Casino Resort, Seas Island Resort, Westgate Las Vegas

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Masa10

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