Two Vegas Chefs in the Running for James Beard Best Chef Southwest Award
Finally, we have some good news, and some long-awaited recognition of the outstanding chefs in our city. The prestigious James Beard Awards over the years has snubbed our city’s phenomenal chefs and restaurants, as they were forced to compete in the region that included Los Angeles. This year however, the organization reconfigured its regional categories, making California a separate region and moving Nevada into the Southwest category with Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. With this move it was hoped our local chefs would get their just rewards and already that may be coming to pass, as two deserving Vegas chefs have advanced from the semi-final round to emerge as finalists for the Best Chef Southwest award: Dan Krohmer (Other Mama, Hatsumi and La Monja) and James Trees (Esther’s Kitchen and the soon-to-open Ada’s Wine Shop and Scuola Vecchia in Tivoli Village). Interestingly, both chefs own and operate off-Strips restaurants, which is further acknowledgment that many of our city’s best chefs are operating beyond the tourist corridor. Other chefs in the final round include three from Arizona and one from New Mexico. Normally the Chef Awards Gala would have taken place in late May, but due to the pandemic it has been rescheduled to take place in late September.
Vegas Dine-in Returns Amidst Closings and New Openings
After restaurants were forced to close their dine-in operations from March 17 through May 29 and bars and casinos not reopening until June 4, the problem for all is the restriction requiring only 50% capacity and social distancing of tables at least six feet apart. Now as we return to the “new” normal, most casinos have reopened, along with more and more off-Strip restaurants, but unfortunately some have had to close for good. Closures include Ricardo’s, which had served the Vegas community for 40 years; Morels at The Palazzo, which owner Chipper Pastron was quoted as saying could not survive the 50% occupancy restriction; and Brio and Hampton’s in Tivoli Village.
The vacant Brio space will be filled by Chef extraordinaire James Beard nominee James Trees, who will team up with Top Chef finalist Bruce Kalman to open an old-school Italian restaurant named Scuola Vecchia (which translates to Old School). Both “top” chefs met while working in L.A. and plan to merge East Coast red sauce with classical regional Italian cooking, using fresh ingredients and making all the pastas in-house with some high-quality steaks and chops.
The larger space is three times larger than Chef Trees’ Ada’s, his Italian eatery which was located just across the way, and Chef shared that with Ada’s being such a small room, was usually fully booked and many couldn’t get a table during peak times. Ada’s will reopen as a wine bar and is being renamed Ada’s Wine Shop, serving tapas and wine by-the-glass. Scuola Vecchia is expected to open in late summer or early fall.
Chef Johnny Church is a well-known longtime Vegas chef who has held prestigious positions including Corporate Chef for Golden Gaming and executive chef roles at P.J. Clarke’s, RM Seafood and Aureole. And, in his free time he also won Chopped and co-created MTO Café, RX Boiler Room and Artisanal Foods Café. Now the acclaimed chef has gone out on his own and opened Johnny C’s Diner, which he boldly opened for takeout during the shutdown. The eatery is now also open for dine-in service, serving items such as Creme Brulee French Toast, Five Cheese Mac N Cheese, Thanksgiving Turkey Bob’s Burger (with truffle-mushroom stuffing and cranberry mayo) and Hen House Fried Chicken Sandwich. Greens and herbs come from Chef’s own garden, as well as local suppliers including Desert Bloom and Herbs by Diane.
Johnny C’s is located at 8175 Arville St (just north of Blue Diamond) and hours are Mon-Sat 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sun 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours Launches Self-Guided Sister Company: Finger Licking Foodie Tours
Don Contursi was the first to operate a successful business featuring dining tours of multiple restaurants. Named Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, the very popular experiences consist of a group of people moving from restaurant to restaurant sampling a dish at each one. After the reopening of dine-in restaurants, the Lip Smacking tours have resumed, but Contursi has also launched a sister company called Finger Licking Foodie Tours.
This new model of self-guided tours offers visits to three different restaurants with VIP seating, where diners experience three signature dishes at each eatery for a total of nine dishes. Participants receive a virtual guide with route to the restaurants, the 2.5-hour private tours are offered daily and can be booked at a time of your choice from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The approachable price point is $79 per person (includes all gratuities) and participants receive a 15% discount on any additional food they wish to purchase.
Contursi says this self-guided concept has never been done here before and is ideal for locals who want to practice social distancing or don’t want to be grouped together with tourists. For more info or to book a tour, visit fingerlickingfoodietours.com.