Be it the dice, the bright lights, the 24-hour celebration or Celine Dion, Sin City seemingly has something to offer everyone. For many chefs, culinary experts and foodies throughout the globe, however, the caliber of food is a tantalizing lure – including Allen Asch, chef and adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ food and beverage department (pictured above, furthest right, with his culinary students).
We managed to yank Chef Asch – a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales and nearly 30-year industry veteran – out of the kitchen for a few, in order to glean his culinary insight about bolstering culinary trends, the makeup of a successful chef in today’s changing culinary landscape, the Las Vegas food scene and – of course – his favorite ways to use California heirloom garlic.
1.) What are the biggest culinary trends emerging in today’s culinary industry? Similarly, what are the most significant factors influencing today’s culinary industry?
“One of the fastest growing trends is the use of locally sourced products. This is helping keep things fresh and supporting the local community. Local wines and beer are further trends becoming popular. Here in Las Vegas, we have fresh fish flown in everyday, from as far away as Italy.
Small portion size and plate sharing also are growing trends. We were served a dessert plate that had 32 different items on it – all of them were bite size. Another big trend is gluten-free foods; that allergy has become one of the most talked about allergies in the foodservice industry.”
2.) How has the culinary world changed since you became involved? Specific landmark events/turning points?
“The quality of food preparation and the advancement in sanitation knowledge has made the industry a safer place to eat. The quality of food has brought out the best in some world-renown chefs, allowing them to expand operations and open in locations that could not support them a decade ago.”
3.) What are the most important lessons/takeaways you’ve learned through your culinary experience? Similarly, what are the most important cooking techniques, in your opinion?
“Through culinary arts, I have learned to always take pride in any plate I am sending a customer. As a teacher, the lesson learned is patience, although my students may disagree. As a teacher, I also feel that imploring a sense of urgency in my students will make them better prepared for the world of work.
I think the most important cooking technique is actually cutting. I think that young chefs should learn how to do the basic cuts with speed and accuracy – that is one sure way to get a job in a higher-end restaurant.”
4.) What are the most important lessons you teach your students? If you could give them one piece of advice, in helping them achieve a successful culinary career, what would that be? And why?
“Stop watching the Food Network; it is very entertaining, but not realistic. When watching the shows, students need to realize there are a lot of people working hard to make the show happen, and they have a better chance of being a prep person, rather than the TV personality.
That, and a sense of urgency. My students do internships on the Las Vegas Strip; the pace is not like in the school kitchen.”
5.) What do you think the culinary landscape will look like in 5-10 years? Biggest changes you’re forecasting?
“I think the biggest obstacle of the future is the technology being created to eliminate entry-level jobs. This will create a shortage of workers, as entry-level jobs prepare workers for future jobs.”
6.) What are the most important qualities a chef must embody to be successful?
“I think one of the most important qualities is a “sense of urgency.” This is the hardest thing about teaching high school students – the realization that people want their food, and they want it now. This is very different from other industries, where work is steady over an eight-hour shift. In this business, the “rush” hits during a two-hour period.”
7.) Who are your mentors? Similarly, what chefs in the past – and today – have made the biggest difference and/or are largely influencing the culinary world?
“Being a CIA graduate, I am a classically trained chef, using the principles created in France. I am a big fan of Auguste Escoffier, as the father of modern cuisine. Personally, I still remember some of my chef/instructors at CIA as inspirations. I also appreciate Cook’s Illustrated magazine and TV show that work with recipes to find the best way to prepare a dish.”
8.) What are the best restaurants you’ve dined in, best meals you’ve ever eaten and your favorite chefs?
My favorite restaurants are in Las Vegas, since I’ve lived here for a long time. I love Delmonicos at the Venetian for steak and Carluccio’s Tivoli Garden for Italian. I actually have different restaurants for every food. Tonight we went to Lawry’s for prime rib, and it was great.
9.) What are the biggest food cities in the world?
“Two years ago, Las Vegas was the dining capital of the world; everyone wanted to be here. All the star chefs had outlets; some even moving here and closing their other restaurants. I think with the global economy in a recession, every town is suffering. New York will always be a restaurant town, and, on a much smaller scale, Yountville, CA is a thriving place to go, thanks to Thomas Keller.”
10.) What’s your favorite dish to prepare?
“I love to make soup; any kind.”
11.) What’s your favorite way to use fresh California heirloom garlic?
“I love garlic and use it every week. I like cooking Italian, and that includes a lot of garlic. I have been to the (Gilroy) Garlic Festival twice and enjoyed everything from the shrimp scampi to the garlic bread. One of my favorite recipes is for garlic soup. When I worked for Marriott Hotels, they made us use standardized recipes for everything they normally cooked. Our gourmet room could run specials that did not have a recipe card; garlic soup was one of the best sellers.”