Chef Brian Massie
Photo courtesy Clique Hospitality.
Brian Massie originally thought he’d live in Las Vegas for a year. That year has turned into nearly two decades in the restaurant scene here, and the native New Yorker has no immediate intentions of going anywhere. As the executive chef of Clique Hospitality, Massie oversees a variety of restaurants, including Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar at Red Rock Resort. Clique Hospitality restaurants also include Libre Mexican Cantina at Red Rock Resort, and Bottiglia and Borracha at Green Valley Ranch.
What influence does your New York upbringing have on your cuisine?
I’m not necessarily doing the food I did when I was younger; eating around Thanksgiving or Christmas, those are the most memorable things from New York. Or best pizza in Manhattan or New York Italian food. That stuff does rub off in a concept it applies to, but doesn’t necessarily break in every day.
Where do you get most of your influence then?
Everywhere. There’s no one outlet. If you only have one, you’re already behind the times and stuck in a rut. In this business, I always tell the cooks, chefs, they’re in a never-ending learning process. The more you’re exposed to, the more sharp knives in the case. Spend money to go out to eat. We eat different things and travel and eat in ethnic restaurants. You have to be exposed to things. You can learn so much from TV now, watching the documentaries. I have like 10 magazines that come to my house and I’m out to eat, five, six, maybe 10 times a month. A lot of different outlets.
Why move from New York to Las Vegas?
I was working in New York for Charlie Palmer and he was opening a restaurant in Mandalay Bay. I was part of the opening management team. I was up for a change, came back from Italy and working at Charlie’s and I was already used to traveling and used to seeing new things and wasn’t set to be glued down to New York. I thought I’d be here a year; that was 1998. One year turned into 19.
You mentioned Italy, what did you learn there?
All sorts of stuff. I learned a lot about Italian food and ingredients and I was definitely out of my league when I was working there. I came from culinary school and a few restaurants and was working for Lidia Bastianich and told her I wanted to go to Italy. She was a pioneer of Italian cuisine in New York and had one of the best restaurants in New York for a long time, and she wrote a bunch of recommendations. First one to hit was a three-star Michelin restaurant in Erbusco, Guiltier Marchesia. I was so underprepared to work in that caliber, but it was perfect because I was exposed to a ton, a lot of discipline and consistency and I brought it back here to distill.
How is the Strip different than, say, New York’s dining scene?
I don’t manage any restaurants on The Strip currently, but I had managed on the Strip for years. It’s intense. You’re constantly busy, and the front door is just revolving with a built-in audience, whether it rains or snows. Park Avenue in New York, no one goes out when it’s raining, and your business suffers. No one from the casino leaves. You also have really experimental diners from all over the country. Some are better educated or more experienced opposed to being from a small town where people don’t travel or are glued to one cuisine.
What are the benefits of being off the Strip?
It’s the complete opposite. It really is. You don’t have a built-in audience as much as you’d think. We’re a neighborhood restaurant. On the Strip your built-in audience is almost entirely tourism. Then how many covers a day times 365 times a year. Really, you might remember the 30, 40, 50 people a year; maybe if they make a big impact. In the local scene, you have people coming in three days a week. You definitely recognize them and they know you. That’s your core clientele, that’s a great thing. You build a relationship with them and nurture and take care of them and you’re creating for them. It’s a great network and grassroots style restaurants: you know them, your kids go to school with their kids, you see them at the movies. On the Strip, you never saw anyone, unless a local came in.
With so many restaurants how do you make sure you stay involved?
I don’t think you can ever spend too much time in a place, and that’s the challenging part. You spread yourself and touch base and make sure things aren’t changing or they’re changing for the better. I can’t be everywhere all the time, so you have to hire and train properly and have open communication, and listen to those people.