A Talk with Culinary Maven Elizabeth Blau One of Las Vegas’s Most Respected Culinary Visionaries
Elizabeth Blau began her career with famed restaurateur Sirio Maccioni and is widely credited with transforming Las Vegas into a world-class culinary destination. She was instrumental in building the gourmet repertoire at several MGM Mirage properties, at Wynn Las Vegas and at the Palms with celebrity chef Kerry Simon. Her accolades would require nearly a ream of paper to print, and include I Have a Dream Foundation’s Dream Builder of the Year 2009, the 2013 UNLVino Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence, Nevada Restaurant Association’s 2014 Humanitarian of the Year, 2014 Dame de L’anne by the Maitres Cuisinier de France and was a 2015 nominee for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur. In 2012 she and her husband Kim Canteenwalla teamed up to open their own restaurant, Honey Salt, and followed with Buddy V’s, Made LV and Andiron Steak & Sea. It was indeed an honor to sit down with Elizabeth to learn about the path that led her to shape the culinary landscape of Las Vegas.
You grew up in Connecticut, so you had an East Coast upbringing. What led you to move to Las Vegas?
While working for Sirio Maccioni, I negotiated a deal for Le Cirque and Circo at the Bellagio. I was supposed to spend 6 months in Las Vegas, but Steve Wynn stole me away. That was 18 years ago and I’ve created a home life that includes hiking at Red Rock and Mt. Charleston, and while it’s not like New England, I like the desert and the weather. The sun is almost always shining and that puts me in a good mood.
How did you get into the restaurant business?
The good old fashioned way...When I was 16, I was the taco girl at Pancho McGee’s in Hartford, making tacos, chimichangas and quesadillas. Then I had a lot of jobs in the industry while attending college at Georgetown.
How did you and your husband Kim Canteenwalla meet?
When Wynn sent me to Mississippi to work on opening the Beau Rivage, we were looking for an executive chef and we hired Kim. We worked together and got to know each other over time. I found he was a terrific person with a big heart and has traveled all over the world. Now we’ve been together for 17 years and will have been married for 12 years in June.
You had a hand in designing several restaurants. Do you have any favorites?
They’re all special, but Simon was the first restaurant I really did on my own with Kerry Simon and Peter Morton, so it was my first baby. Honey Salt will always be special because it was the first Kim and I did together. It’s modeled after how we entertain at home with family favorites and is very personal.
What led you and your partners to open and design your own restaurants?
I had been working on the consulting side for a long time, and thought it would be nice to have places reflecting our own style, our life, and to have fun, casual places to hang out at reflecting our personality. You can dress up or not and the menu can be either casual or upscale.
You currently have four restaurants you either own or have a collaboration with: Honey Salt, Buddy V’s, Made LV and Andiron Steak & Sea. What are your favorite aspects of each?
I love the comfortable design of Honey Salt and it has a lot of personal touches. The women’s restroom is decorated with key cards from hotels all over the world and the men’s room has my own baseball card collection. The menu is a little eclectic and balances Kim’s love of bold flavors and comfort favorites with my healthier preferences and sweet tooth.
Buddy V’s is just a fun time; it has great Strip views, and the open kitchen and signature cake display give a great energy to the room. The food is so comforting and full of Buddy’s family recipes, and the desserts are always great.
Made LV is playful and casual and all about locals, the type of place you can come in and hang out and enjoy a great happy hour; play a video game or board game; watch games on TV; and there’s a fire pit and three outdoor patios. The food is just simple but high quality and scratch-made versions of some of our bar food favorites as well as a great cocktail and beer list.
Andiron is just a stunning room, so bright and full of light and volume. It was inspired by grilling at the beach, and we use an apricot-wood-burning grill for all of our steaks. The menu balances some of those classic steakhouse staples with lighter options, great seafood and even a few vegetarian dishes.
I remember your son Cole helped design the children’s menu at Honey Salt. Has Cole had any other input to your restaurant’s menus?
Some of the items Cole inspired are the Salt & Vinegar Wings at Made LV, because he loves salt & vinegar chips; and the Waffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Crème Brulee Donuts at Andiron because they are all things he loves.
Other than Buddy V’s at The Venetian and Simon at the Palms, your other three restaurants are in the Summerlin area. Is that intentional?
We live up here and are familiar with the area and the neighborhoods, so were able to recognize real estate opportunities as they became available.
Do you and Kim still find time to cook and entertain guests at your home?
Not as often as we’d like. We love Sunday barbeques and entertaining on holidays.
What trends in dining do you see in the future for Las Vegas?
More high quality casual off-Strip neighborhood restaurants.
What’s next on the horizon?
We have our hands full with our four restaurants, but plans are in the works to open a couple new Buddy V’s in other cities and a Honey Salt in Kim’s native Canada.
You have two golden retrievers as do I, Brookie and Dodger. How did you come up with their names?
Cole named them. He’s a fanatical sports fan and a Dodger fan, and knows the Dodgers used to be in Brooklyn.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I’m a beer drinker. My favorite go-to beers are Stella and Peroni.