Living the LUXE Life at Westgate


Latest guestroom category offers a chic, contemporary vibe…

With all of the well-deserved hoopla surrounding Westgate Las Vegas and their recent 50th anniversary celebration, it was somewhat easy to overlook that they’d also entered year 51 with something new and quite hip…. the LUXE guest room category.

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Adding to a profile that includes the comfortable entry-level Premium Room and sophisticated Signature class, LUXE rooms bring cool, elevated hipness to the classic resort. Striking in their simplicity and bathed in a soothing blue/green/beige palette, LUXE rooms offer contemporary luxury that satisfies without pretension. A 360-degree peek is available by clicking HERE.

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At 400 square feet, LUXE follows the oversized floor plan that Westgate guests have long appreciated. Wise placement of furniture and bright walls provide a sense of something much larger. The illusion is accentuated by dual wall-mounted bedside shelves that eliminate floor-hogging nightstands. Both are equipped with multiple power outlets and USB ports within the lamps.

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King-sized beds (2 queens are available) have headboards accentuated with a back-lighting feature that’s controlled by easily-reached switches. A single digital clock radio is included, something that many room updates are now forgoing.

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Mattresses are thick, pleasantly firm and not too low to the floor. Sheets are somewhat on the coarse side, which seems to be the case in all Westgate rooms that I’ve tried. But you’ll forget about that issue when you rest your head on one of four over-sized pillows which are simply marvelous and my favorite in the city (sorry, Delano).

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While they might not being standard in all LUXE rooms, mine (number 22-138 in the north tower) included an attractive blue sofa. It faced a 58-inch wall-mounted TV above an entertainment unit that doubles as a dresser. Three drawers with frosted-glass front panels are flanked by cabinets for a digital-lock safe and a mini-fridge, both provided at no extra cost.

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A sleek, simple desk is situated at the main window, providing spectacular views of the Strip or scenic golf club…and of course, plenty of natural light. Night owls and business travelers will appreciate the ornate desk lamp with additional charging ports and power outlets.

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The bathroom area is bright, clean and shiny with plenty of polished surfaces. The sink cabinet appears to be a holdover from the previous incarnation. Lower shelves stock plenty of towels (Westgate is never stingy with their towels and washcloths) and a hair dryer.

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Toiletries are somewhat superior to the awful, watery cheapies that MGM and Caesars properties supply. A walk-in shower with sliding glass doors has a ceiling-mount rain shower head as well as a chrome hand-held style. Water pressure is excellent and hot temps arrived quickly. There were no drainage issues, another extremely common (and inexplicable) issue with Vegas showers.

Other in-room amenities include fast, solid wi-fi (included in resort fee), board and iron, manual black-out curtains and pay-per-view movies. A/C was great and relatively quiet. Alas, in-room coffeemakers are not provided, but 24-hour Fortuna is situated just off the central elevator banks and serves Starbucks products for your java fix.

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LUXE rooms will run you essentially double of their entry-level counterpart and roughly 45 percent more than the Signature class. Even at that price point, they provide an excellent value and an attractive alternative to ever-rising Strip prices. LUXE joins an extensive guestroom line-up with a wide variety of suites. Those include the split-level pool deck Lanai Suite (which I may visit for an upcoming piece), the amazing 29th-floor Specialty Suites and a trio of rooftop Sky Villas.

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Whatever your mood or budget, Westgate Las Vegas has something to please. It’s my favorite overall resort in Sin City with even more great things on the way. Happy 50th Anniversary, Westgate!

Photos: Sam Novak

 

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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.

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                                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.

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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.

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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.

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                                             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”.

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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.

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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.

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                                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.

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                                          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”.

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                         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”.

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                                                          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”.

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                                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.

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“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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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    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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