Q&A: Bobby Flay
Las Vegas diners have been enjoying the acclaimed cuisine of restaurateur and TV star Bobby Flay for years thanks to his landmark location of Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace and the more casual Bobby’s Burger Palace on the Strip in front of the Waldorf Astoria. But Vegas hit the jackpot recently when Flay created a brand-new seafood concept, Shark, as part of the renovation process at the Palms, just west of the Strip at Flamingo Road. Shark’s blend of Asian and Latin cooking styles and flavors have made it one of the buzziest new eateries in the city, so the time is right to check in with the chef and dig into his newest creation.
Congratulations on the opening of Shark. Was there a specific meal or experience that really influenced this restaurant?
Great question. I would say this is sort of the 2.0 for how I’ve been cooking at Mesa Grill for close to 30 years now. Mesa Grill to date is still the restaurant that became my résumé maker early in my career. I was really cooking with lots of chili peppers when it first opened and you can still see that today in the cuisine. So when I knew I wanted to do a fish restaurant, I wanted to bring in the chili peppers but add some things to my repertoire. I took a lot of inspiration from South America and really started focusing on South American chilies.
Was it difficult to write the Shark menu once you decided on the concept?
The way I thought about it was that there definitely needed to be a raw fish component because lots of people want to eat that way now, sushi and sashimi and ceviche and crudos. All those raw fish preparations are a really popular part of the American palate at this point. But I wanted everything to make sense from a flavor standpoint because I have an inherent like for things with heat, big flavors, chilies, things like that. I was very nervous about the menu when I first started writing it because I knew there were a lot of things I hadn’t really done before, but as soon as I started cooking I knew I was on a good path because of my experience balancing those big flavors in the past. It’s never about burning your mouth out or just making things hot, it’s about trying to find lots of layers of flavors and textures to create an interesting, delicious dish.
This is the first time you’ve created an original restaurant concept for Las Vegas. Did that make Vegas a more exciting place for you to do business considering you’ve been such a fixture here for so many years?
I get inspired by lots of different things every time I’m opening a restaurant, but it’s usually based on how I’m eating at that particular time. I’ve tried to really have a more healthful diet in my own life and lots of fish and vegetables is a good way to do that. So it feels like this is an extension of my real life.
What was it like working with the team at the Palms?
The Fertitta brothers (owners of the Palms) have been fantastic partners. They’ve given me every single resource I could possibly want to open this restaurant in the right way. Those guys demand quality and top-notch execution and rightly so, and it’s been very fun but a little bit different from other (Las Vegas projects).
You’re getting to experience a different audience at the Palms, too, which attracts a lot of locals as well as Vegas visitors.
It’s a really great crowd. We’re getting a lot of local people, a lot of people from Los Angeles and the Bay Area and up and down the California coast, and people coming from everywhere who are just going to Vegas and they’re stopping by. It has a lot to do with the fact that there are so many great venues at the Palms. If you’re into eating, between Shark and Vetri Cucina and Michael Symon’s restaurants (Mabel’s BBQ and Sara’s), I think people are starting to think of the Palms as a real destination for food.
You recently launched a new TV show, The Flay List. After doing so many different styles of cooking shows throughout your career, what was it like to create this one where you’re touring New York with your daughter?
It’s not really work. Sophie is such a great kid—well, she’s not a kid anymore, she’s 23—and I’m blessed to have such a great relationship with her. She’s so enthusiastic and interested in learning about new things, not just in food but in all facets of life. Food and restaurants are second nature to her and important to her, so once she graduated I thought it would be fun to do a few episodes of a show with us being in New York City and showing each other where we like to eat. And that’s it, that’s the whole show.
Do you think that show could have a future where you travel to other cities together?
I think so, absolutely. I’m not sure that’s the direction she wants to take. She’s a journalist now in L.A. so that’s really her focus, but maybe in the future we could go to Vegas or Los Angeles or San Francisco or Chicago. That concept could work.