Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2017

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Guest Columnist:

Chef Rick Moonen: Use what’s local, fresh and in season, and enjoy it with loved ones


Billy Ward

Frankie Moreno and Rick Moonen at Rx Boiler Room’s Fan Appreciation Party on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Mandalay Place.

Chefs to the Max at Rx Boiler Room

Chefs to the Max, a fundraising dinner for food critic Max Jacobson, at Rx Boiler Room on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Mandalay Place. Launch slideshow »

Rx Boiler Room Fan Appreciation Party

Chris Phillips, Rick Moonen and guests at Rx Boiler Room’s Fan Appreciation Party on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Mandalay Place. Launch slideshow »

As Robin Leach winds down his annual summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy — with a stop in fashionable Milan — many of our Strip personalities have again stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. We continue today with chef Rick Moonen, Eric and Jayne Post of “Marriage Can Be Murder” at D Las Vegas and museum kingpin Tom Zaller. Here’s Rick.

Just northwest of the glittering and glamorous Las Vegas Strip, where I dedicate my professional passion of producing delicious sustainable seafood at RM Seafood and Rx Boiler Room at Mandalay Bay, is a little piece of paradise I call home.

The flora and fauna out here is somewhat unexpected: Mesquite-, acacia- and rosemary-lined streets are common, as well as sightings of native wildlife such as quail, rabbits, coyote, hawks and owls.

Tucked away among horse ranches, bridal paths, orchards and mountain foothills is where I reside and what my wife affectionately calls “The Moonen Ranch.”

I am lucky enough to have enough space to grow a modest vegetable garden, a variety of fruit-producing trees (fig, apricot, citrus, apple and pomegranate), as well as an abundance of herbs.

This connection to the earth is what inspires my culinary creativity. While I don’t harvest enough food for subsisting, I do have to come up with innovative solutions to use the bounty of ingredients that the desert sun and soil produce.

Las Vegas is known for hot summers, but it celebrates the four seasons. This goes unnoticed on the Strip, but, out at the ranch, the trees lose their leaves in the fall, the apple harvest is in full swing, and that’s also the best time to plant a winter garden, including lettuces, artichokes, cilantro, rosemary, radishes and beets.

Although it gets cold in the winter — snow can be seen on the top of Mount Charleston, and some of our neighbors have to crack the ice off their horses’ water — Valley winters are typically mild, and you can enjoy most of these foods by late February.

Then it’s time to plant the spring garden, including strawberries, squash, tomatoes, peppers, fruit trees and herbs, and they will start producing in late April all the way through June.

Summer is brutal on the garden, except for the herbs and fruit trees, which we have found out the hard way, and serve as an excellent extra source of nutrition for the natives (mockingbirds and green worms).

Last year we had an abundance of champagne grapes, a succulent and seductive sustenance for apparently every starving mockingbird in the valley. I had to find a purpose for this tiny seed-filled fruit and fast before they became just a memory in our garden.

I decided to cook them down into syrup to become a cocktail accompaniment a la Rick Moonen. Unfortunately (for me and the mockingbirds), the process got away from me (possibly due to a few Stellas), and I ended up with charred raisins and a pan that resembled volcanic ash.

This year, my wife and I decided to just succumb to the mockingbird’s voracious appetites (perhaps they will eat the green worms, too).

I’ve had many success stories with the garden, though, and it has inspired a day at my house called “Moonen Sunday.” This is the day that I cook and create original recipes with the help of the garden and my wife.

We mix up original cocktails (homemade syrups included), fire up the grill and invite anyone over who will volunteer to wash the dishes! We have a revolving door of visitors (close friends and relatives) and have hosted some pretty epic and spontaneous parties.

This is what the good life is all about: Use what’s local, what’s fresh and what’s in season, and enjoy it with whom you love.

May your summer be filled with Moonen Sundays. Cheers!

Be sure to read our other guest columns today from museum maestro Tom Zaller and “Marriage Can Be Murder” at D Las Vegas stars Eric and Jayne Post. This week, meet three of the stars from “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s and four of the stars from “Rock of Ages” at the Venetian — and more.

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.

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