Behind the Scenes: Classic Celebrity Chefs

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With a new trend occurring in reality television shows, viewers are seeing prominent chefs all over major networks being featured as guests or hosting various shows. Although television is a successful venue for chefs to use to get their name out and remembered, there was a time when chefs didn’t have the luxury of launching their careers with the aid of superb rated television shows. Although this may be inconceivable for some, there was a time when chefs were renowned only because of their talent, and not based upon what show they were affiliated with. Although many high profile chefs are active in food related television series, these are a few of Las Vegas’ most classic celebrity chefs that have chosen to do more work behind the scenes.

Known as Las Vegas’ original celebrity chef, Chef André Rochart, President of the Gastronomy Management Group, is the man behind two premier restaurants in Vegas, Alize and Andrés. Both of these restaurants showcase Chef Rochart’s impeccable level of superior dining which is supported by the plethora of prestigious awards and recognitions that each restaurant has earned. Before becoming a staple chef in Las Vegas, Chef Rochart nurtured his culinary passion at just five years old. Born in the French Alps, he discovered his growing interest for French gastronomy that was heavily embraced in the region. At the young age of 14, he left his home to begin an apprenticeship at Leon de Lyon that later produced the opportunity for him to become a personal chef to a French naval commander. Chef Rochart left France in 1965, and traveled to Boston with nothing short of $5 and his collection of cooking knives. His culinary-intrigued mind led him to various hotel restaurant positions along the East Coast including Boston’s Charterhouse and Washington’s Mayflower. After holding a short-term engagement as in an in-flight chef for United Airlines, he headed west to Las Vegas. His first restaurant, Savory French Bakery, was opened in 1973 in the style of an authentic French boulangerie. Seeing Vegas’ nonexistence of authentic French cuisine, he pursued his next endeavor which is still as critically acclaimed today as it was in 1980. André’s, without question, is one of Las Vegas’ most esteemed restaurants in its successful execution of French cuisine at its most intimate and finest. André’s is located at the Monte Carlo with a restaurant décor extremely reminiscent of a classic chateau. Alize’s hit the scene in 2001, atop the Palms Casino Resort with a promising view of the Las Vegas strip and superb food that Chef Rochart will always be known for.

Although Chef Thomas Keller has collaborated on film projects, he’s not very interested in stealing the leading role from any actor; he’s more passionate about sharing his unique techniques in films where food is a major component. Before finding his way to “the big screen,” Keller’s road to success was clearly dependent on his infatuation for classical French cuisine. As a native of Oceanside, California, Keller had to depart from the West Coast after his parents’ divorce, which consequently brought him to Palm Beach, Florida. As a teenager, he worked at a yacht club where he balanced the duties of washing dishes and becoming extremely intrigued with making hollandaise sauce. He later moved to Rhode Island, where he was discovered by Roland Henin, a French born Master Chef who ultimately taught him the fundamentals of French cooking. He eventually moved to Paris where he worked at various Michelin-starred restaurants but came back to America in 1984 ready to further his career at La Reserve in New York City as Chef de Cuisine. He stayed only for a few years before opening Rakel, an expensive French restaurant that mostly catered to the affluent business crowd of Wall Street. His restaurant did receive two stars from The New York Times but its success diminished due to the stock market’s decline in the late eighties. In 1992, Keller returned to his home state of California where he spent nearly two years raising $1.2 million from investors and acquaintances to open The French Laundry. Opening in 1994 in Yountville, California, this restaurant earned Keller several awards, including Restaurant Magazine’s “Top 50 Restaurants in the World,” and James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding American Chef.” As previously stated, Keller has done extensive work on two major films, Spanglish and Ratatouille. Keller taught Adam Sandler the infamous “world’s greatest sandwich,” the staple sandwich that serves as the official movie advertisement which is essentially a BLT with the addition of an over-easy fried egg. For Ratatouille, Keller allowed the producer to intern at The French Laundry so that the characters could perfect the Confit Byaldi (stuffed eggplant). In 2004, Keller swept Las Vegas away after the opening of Bouchon in the Venetian. Bouchon stays true to Keller’s finesse of French cuisine, but in a more casual atmosphere and with more reasonably priced French bistro fare. Similarly to The French Laundry, Bouchon received ample awards, most notably the 2005 Best of Las Vegas Award.

Many chefs possess other artistic talents outside of the kitchen, and for Chef Hubert Keller, he balances being both an accomplished French chef and professional DJ. Keller has stated that he thoroughly enjoys both of his art forms, and he wholeheartedly believes that food and music are very similar in their intricate and complex ways. A native of France, he actually always knew he wanted to pursue a culinary career and shortly after graduation he found work as a pastry chef.  He trained under many established French chefs which strengthened his skills and brought him to many fine restaurants in France, including an exclusive European cruise line, the Mermoz.  His colleagues believed that his talent could be accurately exercised at Sutter 500, a restaurant in San Francisco that needed a shift in direction to refine their menu. Keller did take on that position and left for the United States in 1982 which inevitably led to the launch of his very steady culinary career. Just a few years later, Keller was ready to open his own restaurant and in 1986 he became the co-owner and executive chef of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco, which still continues to be a highly praised restaurant for diners and restaurant reviewers alike. In the 1990’s, Keller’s talent even reached the White House; he was asked to guest-chef and prepare a meal for President Clinton and his family. Nearly 20 years later, Keller was ready to embark on Las Vegas’ culinary territory and opened a second location for Fleur de Lys in 2004 at Mandalay Bay. Next, he opened the now famous The Burger Bar in the same location. The Burger Bar is Keller’s attempt to redefine a burger joint into pure sophistication and gourmet satisfaction. His latest concept features at $60 Rossini Burger, that is made of American Kobe beef, sautéed foie gras, and shaved truffles. Although the bulk of Keller’s career was away from the limelight, he has recently appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef: Masters, and has also appeared as a guest judge of the original show on seasons 1, 2, and 5. Keller is an extremely accomplished chef, having been titled “America’s Best Chef in California,” and “Ten Best Chefs in America,” by the Food and Wine Magazine. Fleur de Lys is still ranked as one of the “Top 25 Restaurants in the World.”

Although it may be a little problematic to find these chefs on television these days, their many accolades and awards definitely ensure a phenomenal dining experience at their fine establishments in Las Vegas. Who knows, you just may be fortunate enough to devour an exquisite meal and see Hubert Keller DJ’ing the night away in one of Vegas’ happening dance club. It’s Vegas—anything goes!

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