Q&A: Hubert Keller
Hubert Keller is one of the iconic chefs of the Strip, having operated two wildly successful restaurants at Mandalay Bay—Fleur and Burger Bar—long before he became a full-time Las Vegas resident four years ago. He’s such a presence that you can’t really do a grand culinary event in Las Vegas without him. Keller is absolutely involved in the upcoming MGM Resorts International culinary extravaganza weekend. I recently checked in with the award-winning chef and restaurateur for a quick chat.
How much fun is to work with your fellow Mandalay Bay chefs on an event like this upcoming special event dinner?
It’s very exciting but it’s more than that. The relationships we have as chefs at Mandalay Bay is very special and any time we have the opportunity to come together, it’s a great time. It’s not a superficial relationship just because we’re at the same property. This is a one-of-a-kind event, the signature chefs at the resort creating a dinner. I’ve known Alain Ducasse for a very long time and it’s not often that we get the chance to do something together because he’s quite busy. And the location at his restaurant Rivea can’t be beat.
Mandalay Bay has always had one of the strongest collections of chefs and restaurants on the Strip, and the resort continues to evolve.
Yes. I have been there for 15 years with the original Fleur de Lys, now Fleur, and Burger Bar (at Mandalay Place) also. There are not too many places that last 15 years on the Strip, and you can see it’s been an amazing partnership. And I’m not the only one: Charlie Palmer has been there since the beginning (with Aureole). The resort has been proven as a great operator and they’ve always welcomed us and helped us through difficult times.
Another thing that has evolved is your TV series Secrets of a Chef. Are you still shooting a new season now?
Yes, it’s the sixth season, we have done over 100 shows and it has been successful so far because they still want us to do more. We’ve done different shows where we’ve done some traveling, like last time I took the show back home with me. My hometown (Ribeauvillé, Alsace) is known for having an exceptional Christmas market, so we went and filmed it and showed what happens at that special time of year. And I used to live in Brazil, so we went to Rio de Janeiro and filmed there, one of my favorite cities in the world and kind of showed off its secrets.
What is the focus for the sixth season of the show?
We wanted to emphasize this movement that is happening in Las Vegas with restaurants off the Strip, which is something many chefs have been working on for years, but it’s really doing well right now. I wanted to show that part of Las Vegas. Vegas has so much to offer and it’s not difficult to find these great places to visit and these chefs who are just fantastic.
It seems like you have really connected to the local side of Las Vegas since you became a full-time local yourself.
Absolutely. I think that was the only element that was missing from saying Las Vegas is a great restaurant city. You know how great it is already (on the Strip), but people would say, “You don’t have neighborhood restaurants in Las Vegas.” It may have been true at one time but that was years back. Today it’s different and it’s happening more and more.
What impressed you most about the local chefs and restaurants you’ve been exploring while filming the show?
Everyone made an extreme effort to show off their restaurant and what they do. That’s a factor that until you film, you never know, but they really put on a show and I was happy to see it because it will make our show so much better. I also want to show the camaraderie that exists throughout the city because you don’t always encounter that. I’ve traveled all over and filmed in different cities and sometimes everybody loves each other until the cameras are gone, and then you realize these guys don’t like each other because they’re used to competing. San Francisco always had that reputation of being a tight, close city, and Vegas has that too. You will be able to see it. When these chefs get together, they don’t have to fake anything.