Sunday, July 24, 2011 | 7:17 p.m.
Robin Leach's Vegas DeLuxe
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Editor’s Note: One of today’s guest columnists is Chef Shawn McClain of Sage at Aria while Robin Leach takes his well-deserved annual vacation to Europe (follow him on his travels at twitter.com/robin_leach). Every day, a new column, plus you never know what Robin will dig up in the wine country north of Rome, so please check back daily.
By Shawn McClain
After living and working in Chicago for the past 22 years, I was excited yet anxious to open Sage at Aria in Las Vegas. I knew that it was going to be a challenge entering a city that has become such a culinary hotspot, but I was ready to embrace the challenge.
I must admit that it was a bit intimidating to think that I was given an opportunity to cook next to some of the great chefs and culinary minds in the industry. I surrounded myself with a great staff, an incredible dining room and a collective mission to exceed expectations.
I have opened a number of restaurants in my career, but nothing really compared to stepping into the spotlight of Las Vegas. Should I bring my favorite dishes from my past? Should I try to invent a whole new style? Ultimately, it became a combination of many things old and new, but at the heart was my desire to bring a fresh perspective and unique experience here.
While I initially thought the notoriety of my restaurants in Chicago would prove important, I have found an entirely new audience here, and the response to Sage has been amazing. I once thought of Las Vegas as a desert oasis removed from its surroundings, but I was surprised to discover its close relationship to California --both in its visitors, but also through all the great farms and ranches that supply us with such amazing products.
I am continually impressed with how connected the food and wine community is here. From the outset, I have felt very supported and have met numerous great professionals that are generous with their knowledge and local insight. From the outside, Vegas appeared to be larger than life, but now that I have become a part of the food and wine community, I have found the town, ultimately, a small town made up of some of the most talented professionals in the industry.
With so much of my focus on the restaurant at the time, I didn’t give much thought to the actual physical move here. What I found in Las Vegas was a second home. I discovered spending so much time in Las Vegas was a welcome escape, both personally and professionally. Living in Chicago, I was immersed in the grind of city life. I became so accustomed to the dense, urban population -- traffic, bikes and noise -- that I didn’t even realize how refreshing a move here would feel.
Chicago is a beautiful city full of life, amazing architecture and a great food culture, but as the adage so correctly describes the city, “If you don’t like the weather in Chicago, just wait five minutes.”
To be here and to be able to sit outside at night with my wife and two young daughters looking out at the mountains and amazing desert landscape, not wearing a heavy winter coat and relaxing -- no car horns, sirens or city noises to interrupt -- it’s brought a bit of perspective and balance between work and family.
It’s great to be in a city that so many friends and family like to visit -- not that they don’t come to Chicago, as well. It’s just more infrequent and never in the winter!
I am looking forward to a long relationship with Las Vegas and hope that everyone reading this has the opportunity to come visit us at Sage, or better yet return for a second visit. Cheers!
Tomorrow, VegasDeLuxe.com welcomes Las Vegas Locomotives coach Jim Fassel and comedy hypnotist Marc Savard. Guest columnists this year include Holly Madison, Donny Osmond, cast members of Absinthe and Jersey Boys, Chefs Julian Serrano and Charlie Palmer, plus other surprises, including nightlife analysis by Jesse Waits and Jack Colton.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.