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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Chef8

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.

Chef102

                  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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Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Executive Chef Steve Young


Meet the charismatic star of the incomparable Edge Steakhouse

In preparation for my ongoing series on the talent behind Westgate Las Vegas‘ Food and Beverage operations, I interviewed five amazing individuals. Each of them are standouts in their field, but only one had impressed me long before we actually met. That person is Executive Chef Steve Young.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

My first dinner at Edge Steakhouse two years ago was part of a whirlwind series of experiences arranged by Westgate‘s management and PR teams so I could witness the stunning improvements they’d made since aquiring the property. To say that my dinner was the turning point of my opinions of Westgate would be putting things mildly. After that incredible meal (which ranks as one of my best ever), I developed what could best be described as a Pavlovian response.

From that evening forward, it has been impossible to walk through the off-Strip resort without encountering an Edge Steakhouse advertisement…and my mouth beginning to water. It is such that I often want to break from my path and head right for their reservation podium on Restaurant Row.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

I arrived for my interview with Chef Steve as the Edge staff was in preparation to open for the evening’s business. Servers, bartenders and other staffers were efficiently going about their responsibilities. Young came over to greet me and we settled into an alcove near the entrance….far enough for some privacy but within reach if the Warren, New Jersey native was needed. As you’ll see, he’s a consumate professional.

The first personal detail I learned was that Young had been working since he was fourteen years old. Much of it was helping in the kitchen of a country club, developing cooking skills he’d learned from his family. That struck a chord, as working hard from a very young age was a common thread among others I’d interviewed…and a lesson on the virtues of ambition.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

            James Beard guest chefs receive a photo book of their experience…

At only 34, Chef Young has already achieved what many in his profession can only dream of…to prepare a dinner at the prestigious James Beard Foundation. This not-for-profit culinary arts organization, created with the involvement of Julia Child, honors chefs who make America’s food culture more diverse, sustainable and delicious for everyone.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

The theme last February 14th for the presentation was “Valentine’s Day with a Vegas Kiss”. Chef Young and six other members of Westgate Resort‘s culinary team traveled to New York City, along with 40 crates of food, dishes, utensils and equipment. They created an epic six-course dinner for over eighty guests, complimented by 132 bottles of wine that also traveled with the Westgate team.

In order to appreciate that honor, one needs to look backward to where it all began. Chef Young credits much of his success to a mentor – Chef Andrew Lattanzio of NYC’s Culinary Institute of America. He laughed that Lattanzio didn’t play games when the lessons kicked in:

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

“Chef Lattanzio was really tough and let us know it. He used to say things like ‘I’m tired of half-assed cooks!’. I didn’t want that directed at me” Young recalled. “He taught us the how’s and why’s of technique. That’s what he drilled. Technique. Technique is everything. No dish will turn out right without the proper technique”.

“Chef Lattanzio always encouraged us to seek out the best working environments, too. “You HAVE to work for good people’, he’d say”. And so Chef Steve did. After achieving his degree, Young received a position as Sous Chef for New Jersey’s Due Mari and Due Terre restaurants at the age of 22. Overseen by Chef Michael White, these seafood/authentic Italian restos were favorites of the area (Due Terri has since closed).

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

In 2009, Young relocated to Las Vegas and started the year as Master Cook for MGM Grand‘s Joel Robuchon. This flagship location of the Robuchon collection of French restaurants sets the standard for a dozen locations spanning the world from Paris and London to Shanghai and Singapore.

Young absorbed the influences of his famous mentors, merged them with his own style (and that all-important flair….er, “technique”) and forged a plan to take on something big and bold. This time that “new” was a pair of gleaming towers looking to make a name for themselves on the crowded Las Vegas skyline…the Cosmopolitan.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Opening up restaurants in a new resort would be a daunting task for anyone, but especially for someone relatively new to the Vegas scene. For Chef Young, that challenge was heightened by becoming part of the team that set out to redefine the Vegas buffet experience.

Edge Steakhouse Chef Steve Young

                        Wicked Spoon redefined the Vegas buffet experience…

The  Wicked Spoon Buffet was an immediate hit. Long lines and four-star reviews lauded the distinctive presentation of small plates, seasonal creations and cleverly-crafted original dishes. For nearly a year and a half, Young was Sous Chef for both Wicked Spoon and the resort’s massive in-room dining operations…until it was time to move upwards.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

                                       “Technique technique technique”…

Next up was a promotion to Chef de Cuisine for Cosmo‘s massive “Pool District”, a collection of three different daytime experiences which includes Boulevard Pool‘s Overlook Grill and the mega-popular Marquee Dayclub.

During his pre-Westgate tenure, Young estimates he was involved in the opening of 9-10 restaurants, most notably spending two and a half years as Chef de Cuisine at The Henry, Cosmo’s 24-hour casual eatery.

Edge Steakhouse Chef Steve Young

“I started to get a little bit cocky while at the Cosmo“, he laughed. His handsome face flushed a little bit while recounting this. “It was time for the people around me to offer a little bit of attitude correction“.  He didn’t go into details on the matter, but seemed thankful that things course-corrected to everyone’s satisfaction. As a result, Young spent five successful years at the fledgling property.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

                      Chef Steve and wife Sara enjoy the active life in Las Vegas…

This phase of his career was filled with two very special personal events – marrying sweetheart Sara (a teacher for the Clark County school district), and the birth of their daughter, who just turned six years old.

Even though the youthful Young was taking on the toughest responsibilities of his life, he still managed to revel in the thrills of Vegas. That included racing go karts, target-shooting in the desert…and having a blast in nightclubs around the city. I can’t provide proof, but rumor has it that the master of steak is a closeted fan of Vegas favorite In-N-Out Burger.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

In 2015, the newly-reborn Westgate Las Vegas was attracting some the Strip’s best and brightest culinary wizards to become a part of their new team. Noteworthy food/beverage stars like Chef Bruno Morabito and master mixologist Eddie Perales came aboard, and Young left Cosmo to launch the Sin City incarnation of Edge Steakhouse.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

                 Westgate Park City is home to the original Edge Steakhouse…

You might recognize the name of Edge Steakhouse if you’ve visited Park City, Utah. The award-winning original location at Westgate Park City is considered to be one of the best steak restaurants in the United States. Having just dined there, I can testify that Edge Park City is a superlative experience with impeccable service and some of the absolute best dining in the region.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Stepping up from Chef de Cuisine to Executive Chef for Edge presented an entirely new set of challenges for Chef Young…from redesigning the existing space to laying out the extensive kitchen. Then of course came the hiring/training of his staff and creating his own Vegas-style version of Park City’s menu.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

One eye-catching example of his contributions is the dry-age room. Installed in full view of the restaurant’s exterior, visitors can check out the various meats, which are labeled and displayed in a beautiful tasteful presentation. The effect is impressive, much like the bottles of wine that line the walls of the dining room.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Now that Edge Steakhouse of Las Vegas has become a runaway success (matching or perhaps even exceeding the standards set by its Park City parent), the recognition and awards have been flowing in.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Chef Steve was chosen as “Best Rising Chef/Rising Star” for 2017 in the culinary categories of Silver State Awards, which recognizes excellence and achievements in Nevada’s exemplary individuals and companies.

He has since become a somewhat regular face on local talk shows, where he shares his newest dishes, often created around seasonal favorites.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Once our conversation was over, Chef Steve escorted me to my table, where he shared some of his favorite dishes. Instead of describing my impressions, I’ll just let the photos do the talking.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

                Baby Beets Salad with burrata cheese and pistachio ($14)

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

      Silk Road Spicy Shrimp appetizer with sweet chili reduction ($16)

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

     Sunchoke Ravioli with parmesan foam is one of Chef Young’s favorites…

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

       Sea Scallops with butternut squash, pomegranite and pine nuts ($37)

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Edge Steakhouse Chef Steve Young

                                                      Wagyu ribeye cap ($75)

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

From what I’ve seen, Chef Young and Westgate are an impeccable pairing. Building a new restaurant “from the ground up” is a difficult achievement on its own. But together, this team has taken a recognizable brand, given it their own unique stamp and made it into one of the most fabulous and award-winning dining spots in the city.

After our interview, one of Westgate’s other chefs jokingly shared with me his admiration for Chef Young:

Steve Young is a very, very methodical man. He plans out everything, writes it all down…as if it’s his own “Bible”. He has very strict way of operating a restaurant. Some of us chefs are wild cards, but not Chef Steve. He’s totally by the books and everything has to be perfect. It drives me crazy, but it clearly works. That’s just the way he is…and I love him.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Edge Steakhouse Las Vegas is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 pm. Call 702-732-5277 for reservations or more information.

Photos: Sammasseur, James Beard Foundation, Westgate Las Vegas, Steve Young via Facebook, KTNV via YouTube, lasvegasnow.com, Yelp!

 

 

 

 

 

Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Master Mixologist Eddie Perales

Record-holding flair bartender wrote the book on creating fantastic cocktails….

Some people look back on their lives and careers to find themselves saying “Oh, I should have written a book”. Eddie Perales, General Manager of Beverages at Westgate Las Vegas, won’t wait for that moment to come. He’s been creating a photo-journal of professional adventures from the beginning. And he is proud to share it.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Eddie has every reason to be proud. A man of ambition, he has been on his own since fifteen years old. While others at that age might have stumbled into various types of trouble, Perales actively went looking for it….by becoming a member of a hot dog firefighter crew.

It’s interesting that exposure to extreme heat in his early job would give way to a career built largely around ice. While living in the San Francisco Bay area, Perales took a part-time position behind the bar. His mentors inspired him to develop an interest in that field, which grew as he learned the intricacies and art of making the perfect cocktail.

When he moved to the central portion of California, Eddie decided to open up his own business…Bakersfield Bartending Academy. Fueled by the love he developed for beverage creation, Perales instructed his students to train in their field as opposed to practicing for it. He also got plenty of opportunities to use his signature line “Shake it HARD and shake it with a SMILE!”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Eddie’s passion for mixology instruction came from a personal philosophy. “There is a world of life to give back by educating” he said to me with a big grin. “I believe you can teach while remaining grateful and humble”. That approach proved very successful, as Bakersfield Bartending Academy was awarded “Most Outstanding Small Business in California” for 1998.

At the same time, this dynamic man of boundless energy was simultaneously running a catering business. Those two careers, sharing the same space in Eddie’s mind, seemed to bounce off one another. He found himself experimenting with fruits, herbs, cooking pans, ice and flames to create unique beverages…from his own kitchen.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Delving into that world of molecular mixology meant using science to alter the intensity and balance of flavors, suspending liquids of various viscosity and playing with the chemical interaction of ingredients. “It’s trial and error….doing things you’ve never done before. How do you know what will happen unless you try it?”.

Eddie’s dazzle behind the bar took on an entirely new dimension when he entered the world of flair bartending. That entertaining style of making cocktails (for those of you who’ve never seen the film COCKTAIL) involves juggling and theatrical use of liquor bottles, shakers and bar tools.

One of the pioneers in “flairtending”, Eddie racked up numerous awards and accolades via competitions throughout the world. He also held a record in Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Cocktails Mixed In One Hour”, an honor he maintained until 8 years ago.

Eventually Eddie’s various talents caught the attention of the regime at Rio Las Vegas. The team there recruited him to come to Las Vegas and become their Beverage Trainer and a newly-created title of “Flair Manager”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

During his time at the Rio, “flairtending” became extremely popular there. You could find it on the casino floor, iBar Ultra Lounge, the nightclubs and even poolside. Rio often held Flair Bartending Championships on the property, too.

You can still see Eddie’s influence at both Voodoo Nightclub and the floor-level Masquerade Village casino bar. While telling me about his stint at the Rio, Eddie opened his book to a design concept he created for the hotel that is still in use:

I was fascinated about the efficiency of drive-through fast food restaurants. You place your order in one place, pay for it at the next, and your order is waiting for you at the end. It’s so efficient and made total sense…so why not integrate that idea for cocktail servers and bartenders to get your drinks to you faster?

Along with changing the overall way that drinks were prepared and delivered, Perales held numerous classes for the staff, sharing his knowledge and inspiring his students to think outside of the box. Simultaneously, he was looking for bigger, bolder boxes for his own future concepts.

Eddie Perales Westgate

One of those boxes turned out to be an icebox…sort of. Eddie’s catering enterprise frequently made use of his own ice sculptures. Eye-catching crystalline displays became a natural evolution of his desire for theatrical and awe-inspiring presentations for his cocktails, too.

Making a name for one’s self in a city focused around beverage presentation would be a challenge for any expert in beverage creation. But very few mixologists have gone so far as to participate in a global-scale beverage competition in New Zealand involving bungee-jumping, speed boats and helicopters. Yes, really.

As his profile rose, so did the offers and responsibilities. Eddie found himself as a “Tequila Ambassador” for Tres Generaciones, “Assistant Beverage Director” for all of Caesars properties and eventually as “Director of Foundation Room Las Vegas” for Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues.

That photo-journal of Eddie’s was getting pretty filled by this time. Journalists were clamoring for profiles of his adventures…and secrets to his unique concoctions. Vegas Player Magazine, Scott Roeben (of VitalVegas.com), Las Vegas Weekly, Las Vegas Sun, Review-Journal, Hotel F & B and a host of others helped to add pages to the Eddie Perales scrapbook.

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When David Siegel‘s corporation took ownership of the Westgate Las Vegas, they began gathering the best and brightest Vegas talent for their food and beverage operations. From Sid’s Cafe‘s Chef Bruno Morabito (of Giada’s fame) to Edge Steakhouse Executive Chef Steve Young (you’ll meet him in an upcoming piece), the team grew more impressive with each addition.

Eddie was the perfect person to spearhead Westgate‘s new beverage offerings. His unique style, daring “why not?” creativity and contemporary flair perfectly aligned with the resort’s plan to bring the former Las Vegas Hilton into 21st-century relevance.  The wide array of restaurants launched in the ensuing months gave him plenty of room to spread his wings and add color and flair to the off-Strip destination’s beverage menu.

Eddie Perales Westgate

My first formal taste of Eddie’s work came from a visit to Fresco Italiano, the excellent Italian restaurant whose review happened to be my first column when launching Vegas Unfiltered last June. There my guest and I enjoyed the most colorful and delicious red and white sangria. As is Eddie’s style, they were brimming with fresh fruits and lots of pizzazz:

Eddie Perales Westgate

I then sampled some of his creations for Bar Sake, a new hidden gem within the Benihana Village (you can read my full review here). There my group enjoyed unique drinks like the Jaded Midori (Midori Melon LiqueurTyku Cucumber Sake and lemon juice) and the Ginger Kamikaze with Tykusoju, Tyku Cucumber Sake, Domaine de Canton, lime and simple syrup.

Eddie Perales Westgate

We also indulged in a Paris To Tokyo (ST-GERMAIN elderflower liqueur, Tyku Cucumber Sake and Mionetto Prosecco) and a Strawberry Coconut Mojito created with Tyku cucumber and coconut sakes, Southern Supreme Mojito Lime and Sweet & Sour.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Last April I attended a post-show party at Westgate to honor the amazing Prince (at the time, the Purple Reign tribute show that was packing them in at the resort’s International Theater). Servers were passing around trays filled with the “Purple Cocktail” which was created to honor the Minneapolis funkmeister. They were kind enough to share the recipe:

Eddie4

The Purple Cocktail:

Blueberry puree – 1 oz.
Mint – 4-6 leaves
Lime fresh – 1/2 fresh squeeze
Sweet and sour -1 oz.
OJ – 1 oz.
Vodka citrus 1 1/2 oz.
Float – Champagne
Garnish – mint and blueberry

Build in a glass shaker. Add in all ingredients, then ice and shake. Strain over fresh ice, top with champagne and garnish…

As part of the top-to-bottom renovation of the property, the casino’s front-and-center bar received a dramatic and bold overhaul. Now dubbed the International Bar, this sleek 24/7 hangout features comfy seating, live musical acts and continuously-changing lighting effects.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Naturally, Eddie had to come up with a beverage menu to compliment the new bar/lounge area. He did so both literally and figuratively…by designing a list of signature cocktails etched onto an electronically-enhanced acrylic menu that changes colors…just like the bar decor itself.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Eddie9

Someday when he has added his contributions at Westgate Las Vegas to the pages of his memory book, Eddie may consider publishing his own original volume. In it, he’d like to explore the diversity of the cocktail world and chronicle its evolution. He’s even chosen a title for it – “Passion From Spice”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

If Eddie Perales’s epicurean treatise on cocktails manages to be thorough as I expect, then he’d better commit at least a few chapters to focus on himself. And there would still be plenty of room for a sequel.

Photos: Sammasseur, Eddie Perales via LinkedIn, Scott Roeben via YouTube, Westgate Las Vegas

Finding Serenity At Westgate’s New Spa


Park City’s award-winning facility brings mountain-retreat comforts to Vegas…

There’s something uniquely American about the community of Park City, Utah. No matter the season, the mountain top ski-centric Park City offers crystal clean air, gorgeous vistas and a warm, eclectic culture.

Westgate Las Vegas (my favorite middle-tier resort) benefited from Park City’s dining offerings when it opened its own branch of Edge Steakhouse. That exceptional restaurant is always my response when friends/readers ask “Where should I go for that one special meal?”.

It was only a matter of time before the local Westgate Resort welcomed another Park City treasure to their Sin City line-up…and their spa is a great one at that. Serenity Spa of Park City has won dual awards from Best of State – Utah for the past five years, including 2017: “Best Spa in Park City” and “Best Destination Spa”.

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

Bringing the reputation and quality of a popular mountain retreat to the Mojave Valley results in a natural pairing, even without the snow and ski lifts. The expansive and easily-accessible Serenity Las Vegas should be a popular go-to for anxious, tired visitors…especially in these troubled times.

Spa3

The impressive footprint of Serenity is located on the hotel’s third level, where a massive pool deck is also home to one of the best workout facilities of any Vegas hotel. In fact, the size of the gym area has nearly doubled since my last visit and it was already superior to most.

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

The spa and fitness center share an entrance with iBlowDry hair salon. The welcoming lobby has a reception counter and waiting area along with various products displayed for sale. Notable is the new Queen of Versailles skin care and treatment line, launched in recognition of Jackie Siegel (Mrs. Florida Pageant winner and wife of Westgate Resorts owner David Siegel).

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

As is customary with stateside spas, there are separate areas for male and female guests with the treatment rooms in between. You’ll be provided with a robe, sandals and a digital locker prior to your treatment, along with a brief tour of the wet areas (saunas, steam rooms, soaking tubs) and relaxation spots. Juices, bottled water, cucumber slices and towel are offered, so be sure to indulge.

Following the tradition of most health spas, certain areas are clothing-optional, so cameras and phones are prohibited (their usage would also detract from the soothing atmosphere). Therefore, expect to leave your electronics and belongings in a secured locker at all times. You’ll note that this prevented me from taking pictures of those areas as well.

Services at the spa are grouped into four major categories: nail services (like a “lush manicure” or gel pedicure), facials (including a 50-minute “Gentleman’s”), body treatments for exfoliation and detoxification…and of course, a variety of individual and couples’ massages.

Serenity Spa Westgate

An entire list of services and prices can be seen by clicking here. For those who are new to the world of spas, a breakdown of procedures and etiquette is included at the bottom of the chart.

Keep in mind that these are luxury services performed by expertly-trained licensed professionals in a custom-designed environment. Therefore, the associated fees reflect that…but are well worth it for the pampering and lasting effects you’ll enjoy.

Serenity Spa Westgate

As an invited guest, I was scheduled for a 75-minute Himalayan Salt Stone Massage ($195). This therapeutic session combines precise relaxation strokes with the melting comforts of heated, hand-carved Himalayan salt stones. My therapist, Eric, was incredibly skilled with them, easing the tensions in my workout-stiff muscles and bringing my mind and body to an amazing level of calm.

Spa17

In case you’ve wondered, my pen name “Sammasseur” comes from the fact that I was a licensed massage therapist for many years. I performed hundreds of hours of massage at numerous resorts, hotels, a chiropractic office and in my own studio. So I feel pretty qualified in recognizing a skilled body-worker…and Eric was top-notch.

After your scheduled treatment, you will have access to all of the spa facilities for the remainder of the day. This fella chose to drink in the steam room vapors while reclining with chilled eucalyptus towels on my forehead and neck. Then it was back to the relaxation room for some fruit-infused water.

Serenity Spa Westgate

If you need to prepare for your next adventure or an evening out, fully-stocked showers are available, along with toiletries to shave, shine your choppers and style your hair. Or you can venture out to the pool deck for some fun, sun and refreshments….

Serenity Spa Westgate

On certain evenings, Westgate is one of several hosts to a relatively new activity –  Silent Savasana yoga classes. These large-scale sunset events provide participants with LED-lit headphones that bring creator/instructor Dray Gardner‘s voice intimately close as the sun’s rays diminish. Simultaneously, a custom-designed music playlist yields an enhanced feeling of focus, discipline and strength of mind.

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

I was invited to attend Silent Savasana but had another adventure planned for that evening. However, I did stop by briefly beforehand and witnessed dozens upon dozens of dedicated Silent Savasana fans pouring onto the pool deck.

Serenity Spa Westgate

If you’re intrigued, the next one at Westgate is scheduled for November 4th at 7pm. There is no entry fee and all ages are welcome.

Serenity Spa Westgate

With all of the tensions that the world throws at us on a regular basis, it’s wonderfully therapeutic to splurge and allow yourself to be pampered on vacation…or during a stay-cation. Serenity Spa at Westgate is a great new destination for your serene experience.

Serenity Spa’s business hours are from 6am to 8pm daily. Special discounted package rates are available each Monday, Thursday and Sunday which include gratuity and a glass of wine. For more information or to book a service, call 702.732.5648.

Photos: Sammasseur, Westgate Las Vegas, Silent Savasana, TripAdvisor