Monday, June 22, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Celebrity Chef Kerry Simon, who runs Simon at Palms Place and CatHouse at Luxor, is nicknamed the Rock ’n’ Roll Chef because his celebrity acquaintances include two Van Halen frontmen, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, and “Saturday Night Live” alum Bill Murray.
How did you earn the nickname?
When I was at the Plaza (in New York City), I’d be photographed by people like David LaChapelle and Mark Seliger, and you get positioned in the same arena as the other people they are photographing. And at the Plaza, all of these rock ’n’ roll people would come in the kitchen, hang out with me and eat dinner. Rolling Stone magazine got wind of it and called me the Rock ’n’ Roll Chef.
How did you get interested in cooking?
I was going to be a guitar player and when I was working at an Italian restaurant, I would take Julia Child’s cookbooks and make dishes until 4 in the morning. One day in 1977 the owner of the restaurant encouraged me to apply to the Culinary Institute, but there was a waiting list. My life changed when a friend got me a job at Lutece, a 4-star French restaurant. I told him, “I’m not really qualified, but I’ll give it a shot.” I was the only American in the place.
Since then, you have cooked in New York, Miami, Hong Kong, London, Chicago ... How did you wind up in Las Vegas?
I came here to do Prime (Steakhouse at the Bellagio). Nobody expected it to be that successful. Overnight we were doing the biggest numbers in the building. Later I opened Simon Kitchen and Bar at the Hard Rock.
How is the restaurant business in Las Vegas different from some others?
This is a tough city to build a business because there are a lot of choices. You can be good, but that might not be good enough. You’ve got to connect with people, know their likes and dislikes, where they sit, where they don’t want to sit. I’ll prepare them a great meal, but if they had a problem with the valet or at the hostess stand, if they had to wait too long for a table, you know you are onto a bad experience.
What, to you, is a great night in the restaurant business?
When everybody in the room is happy, eating, drinking, and there’s just sort of a relaxed, fun vibe to it. You know, everything just kind of falls into place. You can feel that in a good restaurant. Restaurants are totally theater, and every night plays a role, so people-watching is a lot of fun.
How has the economy affected you?
You have to be ready for anything. There is no predictability. But we’ve never laid anybody off and we’re very lucky there. The more that people get out and the more that they support what’s going on in their cities — living their lives and going out to have a glass of wine — the quicker we’ll get through this.
A version of this story appeared in this week’s In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Sun.