Q&A: Alan Mardonovich
Less than a year into his tenure at Le Cirque Las Vegas, chef Alan Mardonovich and his team are hitting on all cylinders. The legendary New York-based fine dining landmark has also been a high-end mainstay at The Bellagio for two decades. It’s been quite the ride for Mardonovich, and Las Vegas Magazine’s Jason Harris caught up with him to discuss the journey:
You have a lot of big-name restaurants on your resume. How did you get here?
I left SoCal in 2005 to come work for Rick Moonen. It was my opportunity to get into celebrity chef dining. I just learned from there and various kitchens. I opened Restaurant Charlie with Charlie Trotter in The Palazzo. That was very eye-opening—that level of cuisine, the mentality, the structure of the brigade. That closed, and I joined the team at Guy Savoy. It was bittersweet to close a restaurant but also (good) to join another great team. I ended up staying at Guy Savoy for five years as chef de cuisine. I took a sabbatical then joined Michael Mina back home in Orange County at Stone Hill Tavern. Then I came back and joined MGM Grand. I worked for Christophe De Lellis at Robuchon. It ended up being shorter than I anticipated because the opportunity with Le Cirque happened.
How much of what you are doing is keeping in line with the Le Cirque traditions as opposed to putting your own stamp on things?
My typical experience is representing a chef with a name, but this is a place where chefs came in and made their names. My goal was to integrate more classic approaches with modern twists. The restaurant has been there for 20 years. There’s not much I’ve got to show front of the house. I’m just trying to integrate new little systems to enhance the experience. We’re doing our own bread service in-house rather than sourcing it from outside. That was a huge criterion for me. It’s very critical in terms of fine dining. You always want elevated experiences and that starts with product.
Where is the restaurant going to go under your command?
It speaks for itself. It’s packed. I’ve never worked in a restaurant like this. It’s magical. We have a lot of proven classics on the menu. I like to do different meals when groups come in. My spontaneous menus. That’s my favorite format.
What are some spontaneous menu offerings we can expect?
Right now, I’m doing this torte Pithiviers hybrid. Sota Atsumi (former chef) at Clown Bar set a whole new tone for what dining in Paris is. He’s known for offal and veal brains and gnarly stuff. He did this Pithiviers, this savory version. We’ve been working on that, a different variation tuned to the Vegas flavor profile. I did pluma (Iberico pork from the end of the loin), venison and foie gras. We got the flavor locked in. We feature it for two people.
General Manager Ivo Angelov is one of the great front-of-house men in Las Vegas. Talk about how he elevates Le Cirque from other fine dining restaurants.
It's completely unheard of. I don't think the restaurant would be anywhere near where it is without him. We certainly have our moments. You're never going to agree on everything. But I think the ability to agree on certain elements, the main intention is the guest's experience and how that's going to be enhanced, Ivo is exceptional at that.
Are you using your Slavic roots in in anything at the restaurant?
Cooking techniques all come from the same derivative. It's mainly going to be a French origin as the cooking application. But I think it's easy to incorporate maybe the flavor profiles that I grew up eating. Maybe it will be an herb or a style of cooking like braising. Especially right now, these wintertime foods, warm, meaty, stew-y comfort foods but just elevating the ingredients and presentation. That's probably the best way I can translate that.