TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF—
AWARD-WINNING CHEF, HOTELIER AND ENTREPRENEUR
FOR THE LOVE OF COOKING
by Chef Charlie Palmer
If you’re anything like me, you’re not about to let a day end without a good meal, even when you have to make it yourself. Hunger is what drew me into the kitchen, but once there, I fell in love with the adventure of cooking.
Ever since I was a culinary student, my cooking has been driven by a sense of discovery, and I still look for a way to create excitement on the plate. That potential brought me to Las Vegas at the time when it was an underserved town with a buffet-driven dining scene. Today Las Vegas is a culinary destination, with a diverse community of restaurants, where it is a thrill and a challenge to please the many tastes of the global visitors. Diners are in a Vegas state of mind, ready to be wowed, and are not concerned about in-the-moment food trends.
I suppose that’s the main reason I don’t always limit myself to defining “favorite” ingredients. Rather, I concentrate on my style of cooking, which is an extension of my personality – there’s no denying that I’m a big American guy with a big American appetite. One of the best things about being a chef is figuring out how to pull the most flavor out of an ingredient. When my career began, the kitchen was dominated by butter and cream, and in a lot of ways, those additions buffer rather than enhance flavor. In classical French cuisine, you’re mellowing or adding creaminess to sauces. But my idea – which became my signature Progressive American cooking – was to keep it as pure as possible. If you’re going to have steak, I want it to taste like a steak. I don’t want it masked by too much added flavor. Enhanced, yes – but masked, no. A great deal of the restaurant business today is entertainment, and people eat with their eyes long before they put fork to food. Call me a purist if you like, but I still don’t want to lose sight of the big picture of what is on your plate – because it takes more than flair to create dining excitement, it takes flavor – but you have to know how to pull it out of your ingredients.
However, if there is ever a time when favorite ingredients guide me, it is Valentine’s Day, when I plan special menus that are not tied to the growing season as much as they are tied to the hidden meaning of food. Despite modern widespread availability, certain ingredients will always conjure up romance and luxury – so I stick with these classics at Charlie Palmer Steak. When I decided to open a steakhouse in Las Vegas, it wasn’t to imitate the old-school Vegas style. It was to pioneer a modern steakhouse, a little lighter and sleeker in décor – and we take that approach to our Valentine’s Day menu, as well.
Oysters are certainly a fitting introduction to what lays ahead. When Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, was famously painted rising from sea foam using an open shell as a platform, she bestowed her aphrodisiacal qualities on oysters, still part of the mollusk’s mythology. We go light and crisp, highlighting the Kusshi Oyster, a West Coast oyster known for its clean taste, spiked by a green apple gelée with a touch of caviar, another ingredient synonymous with the spirit of Valentine’s Day. The special menu is studded with other ingredients that have a luxurious presence, from willowy grilled asparagus, once known as a harbinger of spring, offset by the richness of a truffle poached egg and the mellow saltiness of San Danielle prosciutto. Although known for our select beef sourcing, I also like to offer equally outstanding options, such as our herb roasted Jidoori chicken (a Japanese term meaning “chicken of the earth”). Our menu is supported by a wonderfully eclectic wine list, spotlighting Napa Valley Cabernet and exciting new Pinot Noir producers from up and down the West Coast, European wines from France, Spain, Germany and Italy, as well as vintages from off-the-beaten path – because as a chef, planning a special menu for an evening as romantic this one, I know one thing for sure: delight is in the details. —Charlie