2019 – The Year in Review: ‘What The CL#@K!?’ The First Half-Dozen

 


A look back at the first half of a year filled with memorable and some truly bizarre happenings in Sin City…

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When this writer relocated here from Oregon a short 14 months ago, I knew that it would be a huge lifestyle change. But even for the folks who’ve lived here the vast majority (or all) of their lives, 2019 brought about some seriously weird and wacky shit.

January –

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New Year’s Day started out on a bizarre note with a visit to Rio’s GLOBAL WINTER WONDERLAND. The bitterly cold conditions kept just about everyone away, meaning you could walk through a colorful electric representation of the entire world AND enjoy the amusement park thrill rides of your choice while being nearly alone. As long as you held on tightly to a steaming hot cup of cocoa, it was actually pretty damned fun.

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Employees at the Rio assured me that this attraction would not be returning (and they were correct), as it had caused a major disruption to hotel operations and employee/guest parking. While one of the attraction’s team members swore that at least the Midway part of Global Winter Wonderland would remain through Chinese New Year, the entire area was empty soon after….save for a few sad, abandoned pieces that were left on the side of the lot.

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Historic attraction Bonnie Springs Ranch announced on January 9th that it was being sold and razed for luxury housing. The beloved ranch had been operating in various forms since the 1950s. Locals began flocking to the charming themed attraction for one last visit, many bringing their children to share the same experience they had when growing up.

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The property offered a motel, western town, event barn, horse rides, petting zoo, wax museum, train ride, saloon, restaurant, and a wild west shootout show. Attempts to protect the property by having it declared a historic landmark failed and the ranch closed its barn doors one final time on March 17th.

On a sad personal note, my handsome pal Sunny, who had been undergoing chemotherapy for several months, took a turn for the worse the day before Christmas and passed on January 2nd. It was a rough start to 2019.

February –

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The shortest month of the year will always be remembered for the snowfall. Not once, but THREE times within the span of two weeks. The first layer hit shortly after Valentine’s Day, and by the final downfall, my home in Mountain’s Edge was under at least four inches.

While that’s nothing in most parts of the country, in southern Nevada it’s life-altering. From my rooftop deck, I could see the entire valley under a beautiful blanket of white. Pilot Jim Gisclair of Serenity Helicopters captured some stunning views while heading out to the Grand Canyon. Schools shuttered, longtime locals went bananas and those who grew up in chilly climates just enjoyed a pleasant few days of relative quiet.

Inside “The NAKED MAGICIANS” at MGM Grand

The Naked Magicians, a pair of Aussie hunks with a penchant for bawdy humor, magic tricks and bare skin launched at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club. Despite their name, the worldwide sensations found Sin City’s liquor laws to be a bit challenging, as this prevented the boys from going full-frontal (ironic, isn’t it?). Even with a bevy of positive reviews and a legion of fans, ticket sales proved to be a challenge. So the handsome duo put on their pants and headed back to OZ to regroup. Perhaps we’ll see more (or all) of them down the road.

The Sahara Hotel was still operating under the SLS banner in February, but changes were already underway with new owners from Reno. The Sayer’s Club premiered Ester Goldberg’s Totally Outrageous Brunch, a fun mixture of singing, acrobatics, dirty humor, Donald Trump, deviled eggs and a host in drag.

A few months into the run, show creator Michael Airington (Ester Goldberg) was fired by the producers, who promised that the show would go on without him/her (it didn’t). Airington is hoping to regain the Goldberg character and has been very vocal on social media about wanting satisfaction:

“Can’t wait to serve up some Karma Whoop Ass in 2020!!! NEVER EVER count this old Jew broad out! Happy Hanukkah Bitches” – Ester Goldberg

Totally Outrageous Brunch premiered on February 23rd, which happened to be my birthday. After enjoying the show, it was off to The Golden Tiki that evening for a celebration with friends. You can’t find a more enjoyable place to commemorate a special event than this magical spot on Spring Mountain Road.

Head honcho Branden Powers, whom I’ve mentioned numerous times in this column, was kind enough to make a little memorial for Sunny, whose plight he had followed. Thanks to you and your staff for making it a very special night, Branden.

March –

In March, Excalibur Hotel Casino tried to shake up its image a little bit with the opening of Fuerza Bruta, an avante garde international production housed inside a tent along the Strip. A true winner in terms of innovation and the “wow factor”, Fuerza Bruta proved to be a hard sell to Sin City ticket buyers and petered out within 6 weeks.

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98 Degrees founder (and world’s hottest man) Jeff Timmons used his considerable clout, industry knowledge and fanbase to launch a new boy band called OVERNIGHT. The fledgling group’s one-night performance at Orleans Casino left this writer underwhelmed (and that’s being kind). The official Twitter page has been dormant ever since, suggesting that OVERNIGHT has already said “good night”.

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As for Timmons, he did a spectacular rebound with longtime hit-makers 98 Degrees, with whom he continues to tour. The group is scheduled for Ontario next and is heading to Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines soon after. With luck, we’ll see Jeff on a Vegas stage sometime soon, minus OVERNIGHT and of course, without his shirt.

Construction at both Allegiant (Raiders) Stadium and Resorts World (finally) began to shoot skyward. Although both have announced delays (and escalated final costs), their progress through the year has been rapid and remarkable. Blue monolith monster Fontainebleau/The Drew remains a dormant reminder of overreaching ideas, while the Las Vegas Convention Center has spread its reach onto the Strip, rising on the ruins of historic Riviera Hotel.

April –

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Venetian welcomed CHICAGO – The Musical to its grandest theater for a short run (April 10th through 14th). The Broadway revival was sold on the star power of supermodel Christie Brinkley, who at 65 years old was way past the point of being believable as femme fatale “Roxie Hart”. While the staging and supporting cast were top-notch, Brinkley’s gravely vocals were a constant reminder that some performers should be seen and not heard. Who thought that this was a good idea?

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Thanks to my friends Allison Duck and cast member Derrick Boyce, I was able to meet the legendary Donny and Marie Osmond after a stellar performance. The duo’s long-running show at Flamingo closed in late November and the months leading up to the final performance were packed to the rafters.

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Tropicana Hotel hosted the annual NPC Jay Cutler Desert Classic, a bodybuilding competition created by the former Mr. Olympia competitor. Cutler is a beloved resident of Las Vegas, a city filled with athletes, models, acrobats, and dancers.

Chippendales cast member Ryan Worley, whom you may remember from this profile piece, realized a longtime goal by stepping back into the competition ring. Happily, he went home with an impressive medal hanging from his perfectly shaped chest. Yours truly was there to cheer on this big-hearted cat dad.

Warmer temperatures saw the welcome return of many outdoor activities…and a dreadful allergy season. As the snow began to melt from the western mountain ridge, hot air balloons became a regular sight on the morning horizon.

Kaos Nightclub opened at the newly-renovated Palms Casino. Millions were poured into the venue and millions more into paychecks for headliners like barely-human trashbag Cardi B. and celebrity deejays Kaskade and Marshmello, who alone was offered a $60 million contract. A fool’s errand from day one. the disastrous project closed right after Halloween.

                         Progress photos of Raiders stadium taken by me on April 27th…

May –

One month after it opened at Harrah’s, I finally made it over to see Heartbreak Hotel in Concert. This Vegas-style version of the musical play stripped out plotlines and characters in favor of songs and narration by the cast. Despite a talented team, the show was never a big hit and will be closing at the end of this year. I think it’s time for producers to realize that today’s audiences have had their fill of Elvis Presley and his music, nostalgia be damned.

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Primm Valley Premium Outlets landed in this writer’s crosshairs after an unfortunate encounter with mall security. While strolling through the struggling mall on Mother’s Day, I decided to snap some photos of the numerous closed businesses. Apparently, this was an indication of terrorist activity, as I was accosted and interrogated by an over-zealous rent-a-cop.

I detailed the encounter in a tongue-in-cheek article that sadly spelled out the true cluelessness of business establishments in the region. In 2019 Las Vegas, it doesn’t matter what your intentions are….you’ll be treated suspiciously while simultaneously being gouged for every spare penny in your wallet. I recently heard that the long-suffering space would be remodeled and rebranded, something it desperately needs.

Magician Jen Kramer celebrated her first year at Westgate Las Vegas with a gala celebration. Food was provided by Fresco Italiano and Edge Steakhouse, two of the best restaurants in the city.

And of course, there were more progress shots of stadium construction. As the structure began to take shape, so did the jokes.

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June –

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Summertime in Vegas used to be considered “off-season”. Tourists avoided the city’s scorching heat and hotels commonly closed off entire towers to reduce cooling expenses. Then came the “Day Club” and “Beach Clubs” and all of that changed. Now the mean season brings openings and events galore.

After numerous delays, CELESTIA finally debuted at the newly-rebranded STRAT Hotel Casino. The star-studded media premiere was a splashy event and the casts of many other productions stopped by to lend their support. The show continues to evolve under the guidance of Kim Scott, formerly of Cirque du Soleil.

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Ms. Scott just invited me back to experience a new “VIP Star Seating”, in which CELESTIA guests will actually be on stage for the performance. Prior to the show, they’ll be welcomed into the tent through a private entrance and treated to a complimentary cocktail and popcorn. Sounds like a blast!

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Speaking of blasts, MGM Grand brought The Hunger Games: The Exhibition to Las Vegas in June. An interactive attraction based on the popular movie series, The Hunger Games comes from the same company that designed Marvel Avengers STATION at Treasure Island.

Downtown’s Cockroach Theater Company outdid many Strip productions with SATANGO, featuring Savannah Smith (Vegas! The Show) and Human Nature‘s Toby Allen. A clever musical based around the “dance of temptation”, SATANGO envisions a one-night ballroom gala where the denizens of Heaven and Hell call a truce to lure members to the opposite side. Simply brilliant!

Finally, June marked my first appearance in front of the cameras, via Vin A.‘s hysterical web talk show “WHAT THE CL#@CK?!”Vin A. is best known as the musical director and outrageously-energetic member of The Bronx Wanderers. A brilliantly engaging host with a firm grasp on the balls of current events, the talented singer/songwriter/musician welcomed me along with his pal Michael Shapiro of ReCkLeSs in Vegas.

Our conversation covered everything from strippers and strollers to fiery California and flaming Elton John. You can watch the entire episode right here:

After a rip-roaring good time at the studio, I headed home and nearly crashed into oncoming traffic. Some things are just never meant to be seen with the naked eye, especially at 65 mph. And that’s how June came to a crack close.

Coming up in the second half, Sin City encounters the Wrath of God. Rainstorms and grasshoppers and earthquakes! Oh, my!

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Westgate Las Vegas Celebrates 50th Anniversary In Style


Iconic hotel casino is Sin City’s first mega-resort…

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Many historians consider Mirage to be the first super-sized hotel concept in Las Vegas. The truth is that the resort now known as Westgate Las Vegas began the era more than 20 years earlier. Opened in the summer of 1969 as International Hotel, this massive structure became the largest hospitality destination in the world.

Full of superlatives and packed with luxurious amenities, the International was created with a goal of supplying top-quality accommodations and stellar entertainment with the best staff ever assembled.  A dream project of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, the 30-story structure was fast-tracked from ground-breaking to grand opening in under 17 months, an amazing feat even by today’s standards.61642082_2344871152275416_260241152320471040_n

Many of today’s visitors still refer to Westgate as “the former Las Vegas Hilton“, the name it carried from ’71 through 2012. During that time it would become associated with Elvis Presley’s landmark residency and later, Star Trek: The Experience. It was also home to dozens of legendary performers like Barbra Streisand, Liberace, Suzanne Somers, Charo, Wayne Newton, The Commodores, Sheena Easton and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Starlight Express.

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Five years ago the property was acquired by Westgate Resorts and CEO David Siegel pumped millions of dollars into a massive restoration project, keeping the entire resort operating as renovations took place. The new owner refused to allow his staff to lose their jobs during the transition, protecting thousands of workers from financial hardship.

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Siegel’s dedication and longtime love for the property was in full display during an epic 50th anniversary celebration on August 3rd. Invited guests strolled down an ornate corridor festooned with images of historic moments, pausing for photographs on the carpet before a pre-party cocktail reception.

Glass cases of memorabilia lined the perimeter of the room, recognizing noteworthy events and moments of the last five decades. Mr. Siegel joined Mayor Carolyn Goodman and President/GM Cami Christensen onstage to toast the legacy of the hotel. They also recognized the thousands of people who have contributed to its ongoing success.

Dignitaries from the worlds of entertainment and media then joined high-rollers and honored staff for a spectacular meal in the main dining hall. Guests enjoyed an appetizer of lobster tail and prawns, a main course of beef wellington and champagne as performers like Frankie Scinta and Zowie Bowie provided music and laughter.

Christensen then honored longtime employees including theater usher Angel Lopez Rosas. Mr. Rosas has been part of the service team since the hotel opened, working an estimated 12,000 shows. The party then moved to famed International Theater for a stunning performance by Elvis tribute artist Ted Torres Martin and “Sweet Inspirations”, which included a performer who had shared the very same stage with Presley during his sold-out residency.

Looking forward, Westgate continues to… (Click HERE to continue reading)

Photos: Sam Novak, Westgate Las Vegas

 

 

Hot Guys of Vegas: Tough Men and Bad Boys


The latest in my series on Sin City hunks visits the men who make looking naughty so damned nice…

Boys will be boys, bad boy, bad boy
Always gettin’ so restless, nothin’ but trouble
Boys will be boys, bad boy, bad boy
Get me feelin’ breathless, nothin’ but trouble

                                                   Gloria Estefan

Long before Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine were singing the praises of bad boys, James Dean and Elvis Presley were making rebels look both hot and cool. Today’s crop of Vegas hunks continues that legacy. Bad-ass, suave and still sophisticated, they know how to turn on the charm while driving your temperatures skyward.

 

Mike Thompson – Professional Bartender/biker dude

 

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                                                       Mike Thompson

Where you’ve seen him – EDGE Steakhouse at Westgate Las Vegas

Mike Thompson is like one of those mysterious characters you see in a spy movie. He’s all sophistication and a master of conversation when suited up for shifts at Edge Steakhouse. A master of social graces, Mike will remember your favorite cocktail and have you forgetting your troubles by the second sip.

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But when the tie comes off, so does the Bond-like persona that Thompson’s patrons know and love. On go the mirrored shades as he slips into his tough-guy gear…and the wild side of Mike is ready to tear down the desert highway on his favorite motorcycle.

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Mike’s background is as mysterious as where he goes when he takes off into the sunset. His personal life is closely guarded….much like that man who goes by the name “Bond. James Bond”. Is Mike a spy? Perhaps a vigilante hero? Nobody knows for sure.

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What I do know is that Mike’s got a globe-hopping past, having worked in New York City, Dubai and London. A little research uncovered the fact that he received top honors in the Sofitel International Bartending Competition in Venice, Italy, too.

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So perhaps this wild-child gentleman really IS some kind of undercover hero. If so, I don’t want to reveal his alter ego. What’s certain is that with several years of bartending experience right here in Las Vegas, Mike Thompson knows how to make one Hell of a cocktail. Visit him at the lounge inside EDGE Steakhouse soon. Tell him that Sam at Vegas Unfiltered sent you. And be sure to bring your friends.

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               Hotshot realtor Jeff Desruissseaux and myself with Mike (center)

Noteworthy traits – suave social skills, sophisticated shock of grey

 

Kris Davis – dancer/entrepreneur/VIP club host

 

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                                                              Kris Davis

Where you’ve seen him – Chippendales, Troy Liquor Bar, Fremont Street

Chances are that when Santa Claus comes across Kris Davis on his annual naughty-or-nice list, he takes a deep breath and reaches for a bottle of bourbon. That’s because Kris is trouble….and he knows it. Yet the former Chippendale dancer is so damned pleasant and lovable that you can’t help liking him. Even if you want to slap his head from time to time.

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Davis is one of those guys who just doesn’t care about conventional behavior. He’s going to do whatever he wants to do…so you’d better get out of the way. But while he’s a man on a mission, he’ll willing to bring you along for the ride. Kris is such a popular social media figure that he had to create a second Facebook page and identity….by reversing his first and last names.

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So what does this guy do in Sin City? Pretty much everything. From repping supplement outlets to dancing in male revues and posing for photos as a sexy fireman, Kris is all around town both day and night. Want to get into awesome clubs like Downtown’s new Troy Liquor Bar? Kris is your man. Looking to liven up a bachelorette party? That’s probably Kris, too.  Whatever enterprise he takes on, you know that Kris will be living the Sin City wild life…and having a great time doing it.

Noteworthy traits – outstanding traps, flair for the outrageous

 

Mikey Perez – dancer/bouncer/fighter/ businessman

 

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                                                                  Mikey Perez

Where you’ve seen him – massive billboards, full-size bus ads, tattoo parlors

Every bad boy has a partner in crime. Mikey Perez has two. Not only does Mikey cause hearts to throb wherever he goes. but this wild-child stud has partnered up with pals Kris Davis (above) and Kevin Cornell Dockter (below) for their new enterprise Men of Chip in Dipp. This irreverently-titled party-hosting service relies on their past stripping/dancing experience to enhance your group’s night on the town.

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Providing a limo and getting your tickets is just part of Mikey’s big package. He and the crew will entertain you on the way, then party with you and your guests well into the night. You will feel safe and secure with Mikey’s strong arms there to protect you, as this macho dude has a background in fighting at TuffNuff championships. Yes, Mikey is known as “Pretty Boy” in his MMA bio.

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Whether you find bulging arms and a canvas of tattoos to be “pretty”, you can’t help falling for Mikey’s amazing white smile and warm glint in his eyes. He might come across as the toughest of the tough, but Mikey’s just as likely to give you a bear hug as to knock you onto the canvas. He’s the kind of friend you want to have.

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Notable traits – electric smile, body of art

 

Kevin Cornell Dockter – bartender/performer/entrepreneur

 

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                                             Kevin Cornell Dockter

Where you’ve seen him – Chippendales, Johnny Fontane’s, Virtual 10’s

Our final wild child for this edition of Hot Guys of Vegas hails from St. Louis, but he’s a Sin City boy at heart. Once known for his Tarzan-like mane of hair, Kevin Cornell amassed a legion of fans around the world for his long-running stint with Chippendales.

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Another motorcycle fan (there’s definitely a pattern here), Kevin has been spending lots of time with buddies Kris and Mike for their new business. These days he’s sheared his locks, but Kevin is just as much a badass as his partners in crime and fun.

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Like Mike Thompson, Kevin keeps his personal life close to his vest. Fortunately that vest is usually hanging open to display a torso that’s years in the making. He may not share his buddy’s affection for tattoos, but Kevin has what it takes to look both tough and tender.

Notable traits – epic man-rack, Samson-like hair

 

 

 

 

Cornerstone Steakhouse: Strip-quality Dining At Gold Coast



Dive into the offerings at this wonderful off-Strip eaterie…

There are dozens of traditional steakhouses along the Vegas Strip and countless more in the outlying areas. The dining possibilities are nearly endless. So how does one choose? The simplest picks are ones near where you are staying. But perhaps you’ve gotten a recommendation from a friend. Maybe you saw a TV special about the latest celeb-chef establishment. Or, you just want to revisit a romantic old favorite.

That last option is the one closest to home for this writer. The Flame at Downtown’s El Cortez was closed a few years ago and the subsequent Siegel’s 1941 failed to win me over (three strikes and it’s out). Since then, I’ve been hopping around the Valley searching for a new “old friend” to fill that beef-and-asparagus void.

So far, each and every steakhouse I’ve visited has been wonderful. Chart House at Golden Nugget, while seafood-centric, offers a gorgeous dining room with excellent service and reliable selections. Ron’s at Arizona Charlie’s is a great budget offering worthy of the drive. Edge Steakhouse at Westgate Las Vegas has “edged out” every other in terms of sheer deliciousness and impeccable…everything. But why stop searching when there are so many wonderful meals yet to try?

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Gold Coast entered the elevated dining arena in summer 2016 with the addition of Cornerstone Steakhouse. Moving into a space previously occupied by long-time (and low profile) locals favorite Cortez Room was a bit of a daring move. A high-end restaurant sharing the casino floor with Subway and TGI Fridays seemed like a shift for Gold Coast, which is known for value and unpretentious offerings. I learned after dinner that this was painstakingly thought out, but more on that later.

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Cornerstone Steakhouse is easily accessible if you’re visiting just for dinner. It sits on the northwest corner of the property, reached via the far left entrance of the building’s front. A two-story parking garage with elevator makes for easy in-and-out when driving.

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The frontage of Cornerstone is contemporary and inviting. The welcome counter is next to a gorgeous circular lounge and bar area that offers a daily “Social Hour” from 4-6pm. Specially-priced selections from the Social Hour menu include $5 draught and select wines, $8 appetizers/salads, $6 on select craft beers and $7 call drinks/shots.  You can see the full wine/beer/small bites lounge menu by clicking here.

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The footprint of the lounge and dining area haven’t changed, but the atmosphere is night and day. Attractive furnishings, fixtures and wall coverings in creams, slate blue and shades of black have replaced bland and dated decor. The lighting is slightly brighter than I’d prefer, casting more light than necessary to allow for an intimate experience.

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My guest (a food-loving Dallas tourist) and I arrived early in the evening, so there were few diners at the time. It was significantly busier by the time we finished 90 minutes later. Our server recommended a few Prohibition-Crafted cocktails like the Sazerac (New Orleans) or Cucumber Southside ($10 each).

We both went with a Hollywood & Vine, their version of a Moscow Mule with fresh lemon and berries ($10). My companion ordered an alcohol-free variety and I went full-throttle. They were delicious enough to opt for a second round instead of post-dinner coffees.

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Our server Michael, who was personable, knowledgeable and attentive without being intrusive, suggested a couple of starter plates (while we sampled the attractive fresh-baked bread platter with olives and baby vegetables).

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               Kobe Beef Meatballs in tomato gray with parmesan creme ($9)…

We went with an addictive Steak Tartare ($10 – filet mignon, egg yolk, arugula, capers, parmesan and creole aioli) and a scrumptious, firm and meaty pair of Crab Cakes ($14 – lump crab, cajun lobster sauce, dijon, mayo and roasted lemon).

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Aside from two soups (French Onion and Craft Beer & Cheese, both $7) and four small salads, the remainder of the appetizer list was seafood-themed. It includes Oysters On The Half Shell ($12 – with citrus, horseradish and cocktail sauce), Escargot ($10 – in a pastry shell with white wine sauce) and a shareable Seafood Platter ($35 – lump crab, prawns, oysters, mussels and clams) that would make a great entree dish.

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     Brick-grilled Organic Chicken with mustard marinade and rosemary ($24)…

For the main course, we decided to pick one steak and one seafood dish. For me, it was the New York Cut ($30), a 14-ounce certified 1855 Angus beef seasoned with herbs, butter, and sea salt. I had it served medium temperature with complimentary peppercorn sauce (Bearnaise, Diane and Cabernet Mustard sauces are also available free of charge…and six chef toppings at various prices). The steak was wonderfully tender, bursting with flavor and cooked perfectly to my liking.

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Other USDA-certified Choice 1855 Angus beef entrees include a 9-oz. Prime Rib Crown Steak ($31), 10-oz. Filet Wagyu Coullot Sirloin ($31) and carved-to-order House Prime Rib ($28 for 14 oz, $32 for 22 oz.).

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                              Pork Porterhouse with polenta and greens ($26)…

Single-bone Colorado Lamb Chops ($33), Pork Porterhouse with polenta and greens ($26) and Roasted Garlic Chicken with citrus marinade and Brussels sprouts ($24) round out the meat selections. A lobster tail can be added to any steak or chop for an additional $23.

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My guest’s seafood dish was Sauteed Scampi ($26 – in lemon, white wine, butter, garlic and pasta twirls, served with artisan bread). He proclaimed it to be the best he’s had, and the various sighs and moans he uttered while consuming the dish left little room for doubt.

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  Baked Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprouts with balsamic and shallots (both $6)…

To me, a steak is incomplete without a nearby mound of Sauteed Mushrooms ($6). Our other picks for shareable sides were Jumbo Asparagus Spears in Butter Sauce ($7) and the server-lauded Lobster Mac & Cheese ($11). While the Texan enjoyed the Lobster Mac, I found it to be bland and unmemorable. I’d recommend one of their various potato dishes or Sauteed Spinach with Garlic ($6) in its place.

Other shareable dinner add-ons include Roasted Root VegetablesCauliflower with panko and parsleyCrisp Bacon Green BeansBrussels Sprouts with balsamic/shallots and Cream Herb Mashed Potatoes. All of those are $6.

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I’m not the type to order sweets after a meal…or anytime, actually. But I’d be negligent to not try something from the brief but satisfying-looking dessert menu. Each selection is $8, and can be paired with one of seven ice cream flavors (they can be ordered as a trio sampler for $6).

Yours truly took a few satisfying nibbles of Limoncello Cake, served with berries, cream and a shot of Limoncello liqueur. A tiny scoop of almond praline ice cream brought my meal to a satisfying and refreshing close.

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My guest was drawn to the house specialty of Plantain Fosters ($8). It’s served in a hefty bowl of almond praline ice cream, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum and banana liqueur topped with whipped cream and plantain crisps. A little too rich for my blood, but the Texan polished it off with ease and smiled the entire time.

After a table-side visit by the General Manager, we headed over to the lounge to meet Head Mixologist Brandon St. Claire. After we complimented him on our cocktails, Brandon shared a little background on preparing the cocktail and spirits selection for Cornerstone’s opening.

Cornerstone

The idea was to bring in the best and most inviting choices without pricing them to discourage current Gold Coast patrons. Brandon believes that Cornerstone’s lounge will become a go-to destination for guests desiring a well-chosen selection of whiskeys, curated beers and specialty cocktails without the shocking prices. He hopes their offerings become a new favorite with locals as well.

Many of Boyd-owned hotels have added new restaurants, sports books and lounges into the mix. California Noodle House at “The Cal” and Alder and Birch Steakhouse at The Orleans immediately come to mind. While I haven’t tried that steakhouse yet, if it’s anything like Cornerstone, that one will be worth a visit as well.

I’ve always had an affection for dining at many of Boyd’s properties and am glad they are adding to (and improving) their portfolio while keeping prices from skyrocketing out of control. Our meal for two, minus cocktails, tax, and tip, was $120.00.

If you’re tired of paying outrageous amounts for a meal on the Strip, I highly recommend visiting Cornerstone Steakhouse at Gold Coast. You’ll feel pretty rich without breaking the bank.

Cornerstone Steakhouse is located at 4000 West Flamingo Road. It operates daily 5 pm to 10 pm. The lounge opens one hour earlier. Reservations: 702-367-7111

This review originally appeared in fall 2016 on another site. It has been updated with more information and photos after a recent revisit.

Hot Guys of Vegas: Gentlemen of Influence

 


Continuing my series on good-looking men who make Sin City a better place to live. In this chapter I visit stylish, classy guys who carry a lot of cultural weight. They’re a whole different kind of “Gentleman’s Club”.

Ricci Lopez-Hammargren – stylist/journalist/voice actor/entrepreneur

 

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                                                   Ricci Lopez-Hammargren

Where you’ve seen him – FOX Sports/STITCHED menswear/magazines

It’s often said that when you look good, you feel good. And when you’re wearing a great outfit, your behavior and manners tend to become elevated. That’s how Ricci Lopez-Hammargren has made a significant cultural impact on the male of our species. He’s taken the very definition of “gentleman” and turned it into a living, breathing thing.

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Ricci is the handsome face and a guiding force behind STITCHED, the men’s haberdashery at Cosmopolitan that I told you about a few months ago. Much more than a clothing boutique, STITCHED promotes a lifestyle of manners, class, dignity…and quite a lot of fun.

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Ricci enjoys bringing his unique talents to the masses. He does so by outfitting many of the most cutting-edge celebrities and athletes in the world today. They turn to Ricci to make themselves better, thereby influencing their followers to do the same.

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I’ve had the pleasure of watching Mr. Lopez-Hammargren in action a few times, most notably when he hosted a “Bad Santa” party at TAO Nightclub last month. He’s clearly revered by colleagues, friends and others around him. They’re energized by Ricci’s positivity and overwhelming charm. In our current society, where decorum and manners have seemingly taken flight to parts unknown, it’s wonderful to have men like Ricci Lopez-Hammargren to balance things out.

Notable traits – brooding gaze, warm heart

 

Mark Shunock – philanthropist/entertainer/emcee

 

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                                                          Mark Shunock

Where you’ve seen him – Mondays Dark/Rock of Ages/LV Golden Knights

It’s truly impossible to discuss Las Vegas humanitarian efforts and NOT mention Mark Shunock. This multi-talented hunk personifies community charity on a scale few have ever envisioned, let alone achieve.

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As the creator of Mondays Dark and The Space, Mark and his team have raised close to a million dollars for local charities. You can read all about Mondays Dark in my recently-published article on its Five Year Anniversary.

Mark’s a high-energy guy that never sits still. Whether he’s hosting a performance, singing, dancing or emceeing a Golden Knights game, Mark’s attention-grabbing voice and handsome face will hold your attention throughout the final moments. He and wife Cheryl Daro are especially fond of benefits for local animal shelters and have even hosted an adoption drive at The Space.

 

Of course, the fact that Mark’s one ridiculously handsome fella ensured that he would eventually make this column. That hair! Those teeth! The matinee-idol looks! No wonder audiences swooned when he entered the stage in the long-running ROCK OF AGES. Even with the mullet wig and 80’s threads, it was impossible to disguise Shunock’s hunk status. Nothing but a good time, Mark!

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Notable traits – rosy cheeks, bedroom eyes

 

Gordon Prouty – public relations/media magnate/fashion icon

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                                                              Gordon Prouty

Where you’ve seen him – media events/Westgate Las Vegas/charity functions

Any article on Las Vegas’ influential culture is destined to feature Gordon Prouty prominently. This fine gentleman is class personified. The fact that Gordon is such a beloved member of the professional community nicely compliments his status as the city’s best dressed man.

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Gordon Prouty is the go-to emcee for any type of media event. He’s a perfect blend of wit, knowledge, charisma, humor and eye candy. “Everyone loves Gordy” is a phrase you’ll often hear when Mr. Prouty is at the podium. From awards programs that honor tech wizards to gatherings that recognize accomplished female professionals, Gordon is the voice and face pf many community functions.

 

One of the great things about Gordon is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s always approachable, lighting up the room with his radiant smile and impressive tan. And even though his collection of suits is to be envied, this fitness fanatic looks just as stunning in workout wear.

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A true inspiration, Gordon’s tireless efforts to educate, motivate and accelerate the cultural growth of Las Vegas makes him the ultimate role model. I’m proud to call him a friend.

 

Jamal Parker – publisher/restaurateur/advertising

 

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                                                          Jamal Parker

Where you’ve seen him – media gatherings/community events

 

Our final example of refined class and influence comes courtesy of Jamal Parker. This handsome man about town is a publisher at Greenspun Media Group, the Vegas-based company behind such popular mags as Las Vegas Weekly and Vegas2Go. He’s also worked for labor relations at Bally’s and Paris casinos, owned and operated his own upscale jazz/blues restaurant in Philadelphia (Le Cochon Noir) and served as General Sales Manager for Clear Channel Radio.

Chances are you’ll see Jamal and pal Gordon Prouty at the same events, as both are quite involved in the community efforts of Greenspun Media. Mr. Parker tends to gather crowds at any social function, drawing people in with his powerful voice, sly grin and epic storytelling skills. There’s no subject that Jamal can’t produce a great tale about.

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Despite his refined presentation, Jamal is often just as comfortable hunkering down with his favorite team jersey. Whether sipping a fine wine at Edge Steakhouse or cheering on the Golden Knights at Lucky’s Lounge, Jamal knows how to savor every bit of fun and excitement that life in Las Vegas has to offer.

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A true family man, Jamal is rarely without the companionship of gorgeous wife Mackenzie. Together with their twin son and daughter, this foursome is a close-knit unit of happiness, love and togetherness. While Sin City can be a rather….er, “complex” place to raise a family, these fine folks make it look easy…and beautiful.

 

 

Noteworthy traits – basso profundo voice, fleet-footed dancing skills

All of the gentlemen you’ve met above exemplify a new standard for being a “Hot Guy in Vegas”. I’m sure their friends, families and partners will agree.

Do you know someone who would make a great “Hot Guys of Vegas” candidate? Send me an email at sam@vegasunfiltered.blog and you may see them here in a future chapter.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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