Wednesday, May 15, 2013 | 11 p.m.
Editor’s Note: To help celebrate the 10th anniversary of our sister publication Vegas Magazine, our man about town Robin Leach was invited to a long, lazy luncheon with celebrated French chef Guy Savoy — also celebrating a decade of Las Vegas success with his acclaimed Caesars Palace outpost Restaurant Guy Savoy. Food writer Jim Begley chronicled the laughter and love of life the two friends shared over the expected champagne and caviar.
Lesson learned: “In theater, you play the same production for everybody. In a restaurant, every table is another show. The sensation is different every night. It’s a live show for every table — a discreet, very efficient ballet.” — Guy Savoy
Award-winning chef Guy Savoy and longstanding food, drink and pop culture journalist Robin Leach are two legendary hallmarks of the Las Vegas culinary scene. During a visit to Las Vegas, Guy sat down with Robin at his eponymous outpost Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace to dine on some of the restaurant’s signature dishes. As the champagne flowed, the duo mused on fine dining in the desert and celebrated how Valley haute cuisine has evolved in the past 20 years.
Champagne wishes and caviar dreams indeed!
Vegas Magazine: Robin, when was the first time you had the opportunity to try Guy’s cuisine?
Robin Leach: In Paris. Years before I started The Food Network, we had started including segments about chefs on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” It was about the time that the dining industry was converting over from … great restaurants in hotels to corner restaurants … becoming gourmet restaurants. That shift began in the mid-’80s, as far as I was concerned. Before then, if you wanted to go for a good meal, an elegant meal, a holiday meal, you went to a hotel. You never went to a restaurant. What existed were bad cafes or glorified cafes.
[The first course is served: Savoy’s famous “Colors of Caviar.”]
R.L.: Look at the clever way they do this in layers.
Executive chef Mathieu Chartron: From the bottom to the top, we have a caviar vinaigrette. Then we have a caviar cream. We have American caviar and then a layer of haricot vert — green bean — puree.
Guy Savoy: Like a lemon, green beans are a little acidic. Lemon would be too much acidity that kills the caviar. This is a nice blend between sweet and acidity.
R.L.: Which makes you wonder why every restaurant in America where you eat caviar brings you out slices of Meyer’s lemons, and not haricot vert. This is a new problem for me to ponder the entire weekend. Sixty years of eating something I love incorrectly!
V.M.: How has the fine dining scene evolved in the last 10 years in your mind?
R.L.: It still doesn’t have the respect that I wish it had, and I think a lot of that has to do with American palates and lack of knowledge and appreciation of food. This a country, unfortunately, that is brought up on the badness of fast-food franchise restaurants. It’s a country that doesn’t give time to eating and drinking fine food.
There is a certain strata of society that says a meal should be 3 hours with many courses that are little and light, and each one with a wine pairing. I guess that is the theater of food. And it’s only when you show respect to the chef and the kitchen and the ingredients that you really enjoy a meal that is fine dining.
I think it’s been absolutely fantastic that here in Las Vegas, which is regarded as the cultural wasteland of the U.S., in a sense, this has been an education.
There are many people who live in America who don’t own passports, who have never traveled outside the U.S., who happily come here and instead of going to Paris, they come to Guy Savoy. They have heard of these names, and they’ve heard that these are the places.
This is the amazing thing about characters like Guy. They have this inherent sense of style built into the way they function. With him, everything is a vision, everything is a painting, and it comes to the table like a painting you don’t want to disturb. That takes an eye, that takes style, that takes design.
G.S.: I explain that a fine dining restaurant is the last bastion of civilization. It must stay. It’s necessary. Not formal, but it’s the art of living because I don’t know another place where you have more attention. When you arrive at the reception, a smile, you are with the maitre d’, the sommelier, everybody is for you. Around the table is like a ballet, a discreet ballet that’s very efficient.
V.M.: How can you describe the Guy Savoy dining experience?
R.L.: I think fine dining upon the level that Guy is at — I’ve always said this, and I go on record as saying it again — we are so fortunate in Las Vegas to have this level of chef here. You would never think it, you would never think that Las Vegas, which is the home of slabs of beef and shrimp cocktail, would ever welcome people like this.
Now, admittedly, Guy Savoy is a high roller’s restaurant. This is a very special restaurant. It’s for people who are willing to pay a lot of money for extraordinarily good food and service. It has a definite place in this city.
I think that it sets the level that everybody else tries to go to but doesn’t because they can’t afford the quality of food they buy, the quality of help in the kitchen, the time that’s spent preparing this stuff. I mean that’s where the art is: the 6 hours of prep before they open the doors. Restaurants, which are driven by profit, can’t do that, so their prep is very limited.
What I like about this restaurant particularly is the “special” of it. You have this; you have MGM’s Joel Robuchon at the Mansion; you have Alain Ducasse at Mandalay Bay; and Twist by Pierre Gagnaire at Mandarin Oriental. Those are the top restaurants in the city, and nobody can say other. They have absolutely everything.
This is like coming into a cathedral. Not Notre Dame, but you are entering in a hallowed hall here, and the person who comes here doesn’t come here by accident. They know they are going to get a meal of a lifetime, they know that Guy and his staff are impeccable. There won’t be a mistake, there won’t be an error, nothing will be missing, there will never be the words “I’m sorry.” It’s the unique definition of perfection.
The joy of Guy is he also is fun about it. It’s deadly serious stuff, but he does it with a laugh. And he does it with a bon vivant side of the French you rarely see.
Food is the most essential part of loving life, and that is why I have the greatest respects for chef. It is thankless because every night for them is an opening night, as in theater.
G.S.: In theater, you play the same for everybody. In a restaurant, every table is another show. In Paris, two times a day, for lunch and dinner, for every table. The sensation is different every night. It’s a live show for every table.
[Another course is served: Savoy’s equally famous artichoke and black truffle soup.]
G.S.: The food must be fun! The artichoke and black truffle soup is fun You take the brioche and put it in the soup.
R.L.: First of all, there are very few chefs in the world who have a trademark dish that is known around the world; for whom people make pilgrimages. If you say truffle soup, there is only one man who makes it. A lot of people think they make it.
G.S.: I am a soup seller!
R.L.: We could take a photograph of this and then you could hang that photo on the wall, and it would be as appetizing to look at on the wall as it is on the plate. The truth — the truth of the truffle!
I have never asked this question, but I have always presumed the answer: You created this dish? I presumed it is an original creation. Explain the dish.
G.S.: Two stories. The first story: My mother, when I was a baby, I can eat only artichoke puree. I can’t eat anything else, she explained to me. I just eat artichoke. I think it’s the basis of the dish. The second story: A guest of my first restaurant explained to me, “The artichoke soup is you.” Why? Because the artichoke is a very power product, it’s like your family, it’s a symbol. The truffle is your way of excellence, and the brioche is your soul.
So five years ago, my mother explained that when I was a kid, I would just eat artichokes and for me the artichoke is basic of life, the foundation of my life.
R.L.: This is like ice cream for me!
G.S.: It’s a very simple dish. The dish without brioche is not good. You have to eat the brioche.
V.M.:How have you seen the progression of fine dining evolve in Las Vegas over the last 10 years?
R.L.: As the competition for celebrity chefs began to ramp up here, you then had Bellagio and The Venetian — literally at the same time in 1998 and 1999 — bidding for chefs, and nobody went after these guys. That was what was really interesting. They went after the chefs who became American television stars on “Lifestyles” and at The Food Network.
So everybody came to me wanting Wolf, Emeril, all of them. So when you think about it, The Venetian and Bellagio divided up the top chefs, and Palazzo scooped the rest. Then you were left with these guys. Caesars got Guy, MGM got Joel, Mandalay Bay got Alain, and now Mandarin Oriental got Pierre. So that’s been the progression of dining.
G.S.: The first time I came here, it was 2003. The first meeting was at [the recently closed] Bradley Ogden [at Caesars Palace]. I was very surprised by the quality and the quality of the product. For me, Vegas was in the middle of the desert, and no product [but here was] very interregional cuisine around a very good product.
It’s incredible. It’s a desert! I am very interested by the wine list. Where do you find all this wine? Of course California, but the best French wine, from Italy, from Spain, from anywhere. It’s incredible. It’s better than Paris. I see this place will become a very important place. There are many fine dining restaurants, of course, but a lot of different styles, from everywhere. We can eat from Italy, from Thailand, Japanese, Chinese.
R.L.: I’ve often said and I still believe that what got created here in the last 10 years in this kind of fine dining — it beats New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. People will say that’s heresy and stupidity. When you really think about it, you can’t top what Vegas has.
[Foie gras “Bitter Infusion” is served tableside accompanied by a teapot.]
It’s a bitter infusion. So we have Chinese matcha green tea — it’s a green tea mixed with puffed rice. Here we have beets cooked and raw, and I just poured some duck consume, and we let it infuse. This is foie gras bitter infusion.
G.S.: This infusion with matcha tea and beet root, it’s a little bit low acidity. It’s bitter. The bitter with the fat is a good blend. To accentuate the bitter, there is chicory and endive. The bouillon is very important in this.
R.L.: So you are a chemist in the kitchen?
G.S.: No, I don’t like chemistry. Chemist for me is scientific. Cuisine is very spontaneous.
R.L.: But you didn’t find this by being spontaneous?
G.S.:Yes. I love green tea. I love beet root and when I ate the foie gras, I think I am sure the green tea and beet root blend will be good for the duck eater. I am not scientific; I’m a life lover.
R.L.: I pray the day never comes when we lose foie gras in this country. … It’s a slice of heaven. This dish is incredible.
V.M.: Any other fine dining moments that are particularly memorable, here or in general?
R.L.: The happiest evening we had together here was out on the balcony smoking cigars, which was unheard of at a fine dining restaurant in Las Vegas — that you could hop out on the balcony and smoke Cubans. That was the French man from Cuba, and he had that huge humidor that he carried around, the largest suitcase humidor I’ve ever seen in my life. He opened it up, and it was filled with tray after tray with Cuban cigars.
V.M.: What were you celebrating that night?
R.L.: Nothing special, but we started celebrating with him because he was giving them to us! I’ve brought many people here. This is a dangerous restaurant because this is a restaurant where you fall in love and you can propose. I find it very interesting that they built it right beside the wedding chapels. You can literally eat, propose, marry and go up the honeymoon suite, without you even expecting or planning any of that. That’s this kind of restaurant. And he sends up champagne for you afterward.
This is my deep belief that if we could put the ugly dictators of the world who cause war, famine, trouble and evil around a table like this, eat fabulous food and drink wonderful wines, it would be the end of those atrocities.
Chefs and restaurateurs like Guy are the last people holding on to style, and it’s all here in Las Vegas, which makes it even more amazing.
This story first appeared in Vegas Magazine.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
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Transport yourself to the opulent and excessive Roman Empire at Caesars Palace. But the ever-changing Caesars Palace is far from ancient. The hotel and casino is constantly raising the bar for what visitors can expect in a Vegas resort experience.
Caesars Palace features 3,348 rooms and suites in five towers, including the new luxury boutique Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, which opened Feb. 4, 2013, in the totally remodeled Centurian Tower. Caesars features 129,000 square feet of gaming space, including the Strip’s largest poker room and a 250-seat sports book. Other amenities include about two dozen restaurants, a four-level shopping mall, four pools, a spa, Pure and Poetry nightclubs and Pussycat Dolls.
Dining options include restaurants from world-renown chefs Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and, on Feb. 4, 2013, Nobu Matsuhisa.
You never know what characters you’ll run into at Caesars with regular performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Elton John and maybe even the emperor himself.