“I love to fish, hunt, and I have a small garden. My lifestyle is the food and beverage industry.” Executive Chef at Sake Rok, Chef Joe Mosconi puts himself into every dish he creates. Growing up in an Italian family in Chicago, Chef Mosconi’s expertise in the kitchen covers a variety of types of cuisine and he continues to incorporate his experiences into the extensive menu at Sake Rok. 

photo courtesy Sake Rok

Where were you raised and how did you get interested in cooking?

I was raised in Chicago up until high school when I moved to Las Vegas. My mother definitely influenced my interest in cooking. I grew up in a large Italian family, and five nights a week it was all about family dinners and getting together to talk over a meal. I would watch her cook, and there was always food in the house. I would get creative with things to prepare meals, and self-taught myself a lot. I started getting into reading cookbooks and watching cooking shows, and going out to eat a lot. That’s really what sparked my interest in doing this for a career.

What were some of your early jobs in
the kitchen?

I worked in a restaurant when I was 18 years old and started at the front-of-the-house, bussing tables and running food. Around 20 years old an opportunity came up for me to be a line cook so I switched to back-of-the-house and never looked back. I’ve held almost every position in a restaurant you could imagine. I spent a couple years at Tao at The Venetian, and then at Hank’s at Green Valley Ranch. Then when my wife and I had kids I spent some time in Pahrump where I managed a golf course and traveled around managing the kitchens for a couple years. It allowed me to be home more than my current job does. Once my kids got a little older I came back to Strip properties and have been back on the Strip for four years now.

How long have you been at Sake Rok?

Sake Rok is 18 months old and I have been with it since day one. I helped develop the menu, write recipes and train staff. A friend of mine, Bobby Silva, was the original executive chef who I had worked with before. He asked me to be the executive sous-chef for him and I knew it was a good opportunity. In November 2016 I took over as the executive chef.

What do you use for inspiration when developing new menu items?

We’re currently going through a menu change, and when seeking inspiration for changes I use history. I think of what customers are asking for and what they’ve liked and disliked before. I also go out to eat a lot and try to stay in touch with local restaurants both on and off the Strip. If I see something that I like I try to incorporate it in my own way. I always make things my own, and definitely try to pull inspiration from myself as well as getting inspiration from other chefs and restaurants. Sake Rok is the first real Japanese restaurant I’ve worked in. I worked at Tao for a bit, but as far as sushi and traditional Japanese cuisine this is my first place. I try to incorporate my experiences at other restaurants and think of how I can include a technique or ingredient that might pair well with Japanese cuisine. We use truffle a lot because truffle and soy go really well together. White truffle is traditionally French and Italian, but that ingredient works well with Japanese cuisine. I’m finding out the more time I spend here that there are a lot of other things that you wouldn’t think go well with traditional Japanese but really do.

What are some of your favorite dishes on Sake Rok’s menu?

Mushroom toban yaki is one of my favorites; it’s been on the menu since the beginning. We put five different types of mushrooms in it and it has a great balance of flavors. I also really like our crispy rice. It’s something you find on a lot of menus at a lot of Japanese restaurants but I like the way we present it and our flavor profile is spot on. Going through our current menu change, only four items will be untouched and those dishes are two of them. We change the menu twice a year—about every six months for spring/summer and fall/winter. 

What is one of the most interesting ingredients you’ve cooked with?

I really like yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus. We could use a lemon or lime, but I think yuzu is top notch. It’s very versatile. We put it in desserts to add brightness and to bring out certain ingredients, or in savory dishes. I really like the flavor profile of it, and if I ever went to another kind of restaurant, like Mexican, I would still use it as a substitute for lemon.

What’s something you always keep in your refrigerator at home?

We always keep our fridge at home full, and always have white American cheese. Our go-to is a toasted English muffin with jelly and melted white American cheese. It’s the perfect sweet and savory combination.