The man behind the Mr. Chow culinary empire
For Michael Chow, food is history. It’s tradition and it’s family. It’s entertainment. It’s art, and it should be celebrated. Creating the space for people to dine equals more than a restaurant—it’s a foundation for a way of thinking, experiencing and enjoying a way of life. For Chow, food equals life. As the owner and founder of Mr. Chow, one of the world’s most recognized and revered monikers in Chinese cuisine, he continues his culinary lifeline with the recent opening of his seventh location at Caesars Palace.
Since establishing the first location in London in 1968, the Mr. Chow brand has expanded to the U.S., with two restaurants in New York and ones in Miami Beach, Beverly Hills and Malibu. But for the man behind the name on each restaurant, he brought more than just traditional Beijing cuisine to Western palates; he brought history.
“First of all, the intention of Mr. Chow is really not to do with business. (It’s) more to do with my personal, internal desire and need to fulfill or to recapture my country, my parents,” Chow explains. “To me, China has always been the greatest country in the world. So my journey of life is expressed through the cuisine of China. To show respect, how great Chinese cuisine, Chinese culture, Chinese people are.
“When I first opened Mr. Chow, the beginning of that I was very much motivated not as a business but as a culture exchange. And, so, I was a self-appointed ambassador. To me, Chinese cuisine is the greatest on the planet, historically speaking. It’s very sophisticated cuisine. So with this passion, this need, this desire to fulfill that dream, this has been a great expectation, and I’m very humble and grateful that I’ve succeeded in that, to make Chinese cuisine, Chinese culture, recognized in the West.”
Talking with Chow, you quickly uncover the passion, the yearning he has to take such an everyday topic as food and turn it into a topic that feeds the soul, so to speak. And with the opening of the Caesars Palace location, you get a glimpse into what one could call the philosophy—the principles, the truths—behind a Mr. Chow restaurant.
“The restaurant, from my point of view, is more like a play, a musical, a convention and tradition and structure which is set by tradition,” he says. “And then it’s by interpretation that everything in the restaurant is very much like theater. Theater golden rule: Don’t bore the audience. So in order to do that I need to (make sure) every aspect, every detail is as true as possible, and then when all the details become perfect, when you put all combinations together for the restaurant god, the restaurant god will reward you this powerful thing. This restaurant—it’s a way of life, a way of thinking, a way of philosophy.”
For 48 years Chow has practiced this same way of thinking. He’s sought and found certain details and used those details for inspiration, for guidance in creating each of his restaurants. Everything inside a Mr. Chow restaurant—from chair to table, from serving to cooking and every action of the staff—has a detailed intent behind it. “Inspiration comes from trying to seek the truth in every detail of the universe. Take a fork, it’s faced downward, and we decided to do that from tradition,” he explains. “Many years ago in England, the fork was laid (facing downward) because someone poked it and it blinded someone, so therefore English fork tradition is facedown. So once you find that detail in the universe, never let it go. (I’ve used) this detail for 48 years. In other words, if you find a detail, be true to it.”
Depending on what city he opens a restaurant in, he draws on the inspirations of that city. And just like the aesthetics of Las Vegas—the fantasy, the over the top, the theater of it all—Chow has implemented it into this restaurant.
“This restaurant, like all the Mr. Chows, has a special side to it,” he says. “This environment is white on white, a Mr. Chow tradition. Very romantic. This is fantasy, this is poetry, this is theater, excitement. I was given a 60-foot dome, with 35-foot ceiling, so I created this kinetic sculpture.” It’s named The Moon, a 26-foot moveable disc that changes colors and light. Throughout the evening it will entertain. “It will perform, like the Bellagio fountains,” Chow says.
“So the environment (of the restaurant) is one entertainment out of the next,” says Chow, as he goes on to explain more of the entertainment guests will enjoy. “Entertainment in terms of the restaurant’s traditions, there’s six things. One is the dessert trolley. One of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen. The other is the champagne trolley; we even have Dom Perignon by the glass. The other is the noodle show. The other is carving the Beijing duck. The other is deboning fresh Dover sole, and then the wine decanter.”
Chow says he’s waited more than two decades to bring his restaurant to Las Vegas. It was never quite the right time, or the right fit, but he now feels the timing is perfect—the universe cleared the way for him to bring not only his noteworthy Chinese cuisine, but his way of inviting guests inside his eclectic, fantastic, philosophical world.
“It’s all meant to be, at the end of the day, to open and see that it’s the right choice—although I waited over 20 years to do it—it’s a happy ending,” he says. “The reason for that is that Caesars is the foundation of Vegas, from my point of view. So the match, Mr. Chow has been around a long time, Caesars has been around a long time. I think it’s a perfect fit.”
Caesars Palace, 5-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 5-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 702.731.7888