Following an early career of moving across the country, Megan Shaver is ready to plant her roots firmly in Las Vegas. Shaver recently returned to Las Vegas and her pervious employer JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa as the executive chef at Hawthorn Grill. She’s traversed the country, from New York to Hawaii to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Back in Las Vegas, she’s excited to wrap all those experiences into the menus she’ll create at Hawthorn Grill.
You were in Las Vegas, where’d you go?
I was here for seven, but left about four years ago for Denver.
Prior to that move to Las Vegas, where were you?
I had been living in Hawaii for four years, working at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai. It was getting a little small and I wanted to see some new things, maybe a little bigger. I had an opportunity to start at the JW Marriott with Chef Bruce [Knapik] and I felt like I needed something different. Once in Las Vegas, it was all here at here at JW.
Where were you working in Denver, and how’d you end up there?
There was a chef I knew from New York at the Inverness Hotel & Conference Center and had family there, plus it was nice to see some snow. I worked at two separate places, mostly big banquets, but with locally sourced food and a smaller level than Las Vegas and the Art Hotel, and that taught me a lot of really creative plates.
It seems like you’ve been all over the map. How’d that happen?
It wasn’t really planned, when I was in Denver I got the opportunity to get to know a chef at the JW who moved to the Caribbean, then the opportunity to go St. Thomas to work at Marriott’s Frenchman’s Reef. We go down there, and not even a year and Hurricane Irma destroyed the hotel, and I was thrown for a loop. I thought we’d be down there for a while with an island lifestyle. It was devastation, but a quick relocation to Atlanta and after, I worked at the largest hotel in Atlanta, the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. It was 1,600 rooms. I knew I wanted to get back to a smaller scale and I came out here for vacation and Chef Bruce reached out and said the chef was leaving and it just felt right.
What are you most excited for about being back?
Just kind of putting my background on the menu and to make it more user friendly. Getting my team involved in the menu. I always like input from the team, because they feel more involved and see their influence in it too. I like to present my ideas and bounce back and collaborate.
Is there one particular region you draw most of your influence?
I think I draw from everywhere. I loved Hawaii; parts I still use in the cooking, but I draw from everything. I try to go to the Asian markets and find different things and get like green mango and get the Philippine and Hawaiian foods.
Any new menu items you’re really excited about?
We have some cool things, but the grilled octopus, how to get it the most tender, that was great team effort. We have some new lunch menus to check out too. It’s just changing it up a little bit, taking classics and spicing them up a little bit. We’re excited for the future.
How’d you get into cooking?
I grew up in upstate New York and a neighbor was Mr. Food, this local celebrity chef always filming in his backyard and a whole kitchen in his basement. When I was a kid, my uncle opened a deli in New York. I always liked to spend more time there than other extracurricular activities. Then at 15 my parents opened a restaurant and I continued working then got my B.S. in nutrition at Russell Sage College, then a degree at the Culinary Institute of America.
What’s your favorite thing about being a chef?
There are some guys I hired here as cooks seven, eight years ago now who are as sous chefs. Watching them lead the line, I passed along my knowledge and helped them get there and you see some of yourself in them.
What’s the best part of the Las Vegas food scene?
I love that there is so much variety. It’s what do you want? French? Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro. Echo and Rig for steak. I love that there is so much. Hawaiian food, the poke in North Las Vegas is on par with Hawaii. I like to eat in Chinatown a lot. That’s fun.\