Within the luxurious resorts of Las Vegas are some of the best fine-dining establishments, and behind these restaurants are teams of the most talented and hard-working individuals in the industry. While most of the industry is dominated by men, women have begun to establish themselves in the field more often. We sat down with two incredible women, Chef Nicole Brisson, the Culinary Director of B&B Hospitality Group and Philippa Fryman, Vice President of Food and Beverage at The Venetian and The Palazzo, to learn about their positions and their dedication to providing the ultimate dining experience for Las Vegas guests.
Chef Nicole Brisson Culinary Director of B&B Hospitality
Chef Nicole Brisson started in the kitchen industry early on, working in numerous restaurants in upstate NY while growing up and enhancing her skills through apprenticeships in Italy. Brisson came to Las Vegas without ever setting foot here, and has now been working on the Strip for 14 years. With much perseverance and an amazing work ethic, Brisson worked her way up in the industry and was an executive chef before she was thirty years old. Brisson praises the mentors she’s had over the years who helped her get to where she is today, and strives to be a mentor to her team daily. Brisson has been the Culinary Director of B&B Hospitality for about a year, taking on a more administrative role than her previous work, and she manages the four restaurants of B&B. “There’s never a dull moment. I’m still in the kitchen a lot; it’s my passion and drive. Even though I’m not hands-on cooking as much, my job is still so much about food.”
What inspired you to become a chef?
I started working in kitchens when I was 14. My sister went to culinary school and we always worked together in small businesses in upstate NY so I took the same path. I did a vocational program and earned scholarships to Johnson and Wales where I got my associates degree. While working at The Palmer House Café I met Molly O’Neill, who was the food writer for The New York Times and she introduced me to Faith Willinger. Two weeks later I moved to Italy and Faith set me up at a number of stages in some of the best restaurants in Italy where I worked for almost two years.
What brought you to Las Vegas?
I went back to NY to work and one of our regular customers at the restaurant introduced me to Stephen Kalt who was opening Corsa Cucina at Wynn. After interviewing with him I packed up my bags and drove out to Las Vegas without ever stepping foot there. I’ve been here now for almost fourteen years. Everything came full circle once I got to Vegas. I was a cook at Corsa Cucina, and later worked in banquets and then with Paul Bartolotta for almost two years. I then met Zach Allen, who is currently our DO. He was opening a restaurant at Mario Batali’s place and I went to work with him. We all worked hard and whoever proved themselves got promoted. I worked at B&B and Otto, and when the chef at Otto left, Zach told me it was mine. I ran Otto as Chef de Cuisine for three years and then got promoted to Executive Chef at Carnevino, where I worked for seven years.
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment in your career
I started out in the industry young and my goal was to be one of the youngest female chefs at a high-end restaurant. When I was in my mid-twenties I was already an executive chef. That was the point in my career where I kept going, putting my head down and working hard, and finally halfway through Carnevino I realized all the pieces had come together. Coming from the means I came from to an amazing city like Las Vegas was almost surreal.
What is it like being a woman in a predominantly male field?
I think a lot of it depends on the company you work for. With different companies I’ve worked for you felt you were a woman on a daily basis because of the way you were treated, being told you couldn’t do certain things or progress because of certain reasons. Ever since I started working for Mario and Zach, the biggest difference I saw was it wasn’t whether you were female or male, it was how hard you worked.
What do you feel you bring to the industry as a woman that men don’t?
I think that women naturally take a more nurturing approach in management. Your team looks to you as a mentor and caregiver. I also think women give more attention to detail and have a natural eye for that, in terms of plating and presentation. I see being a women in a male-dominated field how you can influence and mentor young people. It’s something that’s really important to me because I had so many great mentors in my life. I would’ve never been so successful as a chef if I didn’t have so many people help me.
What advice do you have for women entering the F&B industry?
Don’t get frustrated by how hard the work is. I don’t think anyone should go into this career thinking it’s going to be easy. The hours are long, and it’s both mentally and physically stressful and draining. You have to really, really love it. It’s just as easy for a woman to succeed as a man, but remember there’s ‘no crying in baseball.’
Philippa Fryman, Vice President of F&B at The Venetian/The Palazzo
Philippa Fryman has a diverse background. From growing up in Australia and traveling often with her family, Fryman experienced the hospitality industry from the view of a guest starting at a young age. Once moving to Las Vegas, she started her career as the assistant general manager at Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace. After experiencing fine-dining and working in luxury services, Fryman worked her way up within The Venetian and after nine years has been newly appointed the Vice President of Food & Beverage. In her new role, Fryman oversees a large team and works to bring fresh and exciting concepts to the food and beverage in The Venetian. “I’m so fortunate to have been with The Venetian for nine years and to be able to grow within the same company.”
How did you get started working in Food and Beverage?
I’m from Australia and my father was an airline pilot so we traveled a lot. When I was five my family moved to Hong Kong so we stayed in hotels and flew a lot and that really exposed me to the hospitality business at a very young age. I returned to Australia and attended the University of Queensland. I earned two degrees, a Bachelors of Commerce and Bachelors of Arts in French Language, which came in use while working in French restaurants.
How did you get to your current position as Vice President?
I started working at The Venetian in 2009 in luxury services. I had always been in restaurants and fine dining and in order to broaden my career I felt that I needed to get out of luxury and more into volume. In Vegas there’s great opportunity since we have such big hotels and beverage programs and I wanted to challenge myself. I went from having a team of 80 butlers to 400 cocktail waitresses and bartenders on the casino floor. It really helped to develop a different side of my career and to learn the skills that would be needed to handle such large volume.
What’s the most challenging part of your position? What’s the most rewarding part?
It’s challenging to stay relevant, in terms of bringing fresh new concepts and programs, when you work in such a big hotel. When you work in such a big hotel in order to get things done there are a lot more approvals required than if it were your own restaurant, so that’s one of the challenges. It can be challenging to keep things new and interesting when it takes a long time to make changes. I’d say it’s a challenge we’re succeeding in because this (The Dorsey) is a great example. We have a really different, new concept right on the casino floor that we made happen. I love seeing my team grow and develop. I love being a leader for them and inspiring them. When I see my team growing in confidence or achieve something big, it’s very rewarding on both sides.
What is it like being a woman in a predominately male field?
To me it’s really a non-issue. I don’t feel that I’m seen as an exception. I feel those around me react to me because of my results and I don’t expect anything different or feel I receive anything different. Working with such a big company they recognize results regardless of who it comes from. You definitely see more and more females in the kitchen or in management and I think this is just the beginning. I have a great mix of male and female on my team and think of it as results and if you do well you get recognized.
What’s your favorite thing about your new position as Vice President?
It’s fun! Food and Beverage is about creating experiences for guests. Everyone loves to eat and drink so we’re constantly designing new menus, tasting new products or coming up with new ideas. Competition here on the Strip is very tight so we have to always be trying things. I’m able to tie it back to my upbringing—being exposed to different cultures, countries, flavors and ways of doing things.
What are your goals as VP?
I want to continue making The Venetian/Palazzo the go-to destination for Food and Beverage concepts. I want to keep giving back to my team, developing them and making sure that their aspirations are being met so they don’t go elsewhere. I’ve created a great team and want to give them a place to grow here.