GAR­DEN STATE

Wynn Magazine - - CONTENTS - By An­drea Ben­nett Photography by Barbara Kraft

The ve­gan dishes found in every Wynn Las Ve­gas restau­rant have evolved to hold their own among the re­sort’s haute of­fer­ings.

The ve­gan dishes found in every Wynn Las Ve­gas restau­rant have evolved to hold their own among the re­sort’s haute of­fer­ings.

IT IS A BALMY EARLY JUNE EVENING AT A COV­ETED PA­TIO TA­BLE AT LAKE­SIDE restau­rant that ex­tends vir­tu­ally right into the Lake of Dreams—one of the best places to take in the trans­port­ing ef­fect of a restau­rant in the desert serv­ing fish so fresh you might tem­po­rar­ily for­get where you are. A pa­rade of fra­grant wood-roasted lob­sters makes its way to sur­round­ing ta­bles, along with Hawai­ian fish that, thanks to a long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with ded­i­cated fish­er­men, is plucked from wa­ters around Hana and ar­rives faster here in Las Ve­gas than vir­tu­ally any restau­rant in Maui. A crispy “crab” cake stud­ded with big chunks of meat and redo­lent of Old Bay sea­son­ing comes out first, fol­lowed by a smoky, rich chow­der. If you hadn’t specif­i­cally or­dered them from the veg­e­tar­ian menu, you might never know that the meat is ac­tu­ally fresh hearts of palm, braised slowly in kombu broth to take on nearly the pre­cise tex­ture and fla­vor of lump crab. Kombu broth, along with cashew cream, is also the base for the chow­der, in which smoked oys­ter mush­rooms stand in for the bi­valves, im­part­ing a slight ba­con fla­vor. Both dishes are ve­gan stand­bys from a plant-based menu that con­tains con­vinc­ing ve­gan re­place­ments for the restau­rant’s seafood dishes, and now a grow­ing num­ber of items that stand in for noth­ing but their own in­com­pa­ra­ble in­gre­di­ents. When Wynn de­vel­oped ve­gan menus for all its restau­rants in 2011, the goal was clear: give an in­creas­ing num­ber of veg­e­tar­ian and ve­gan guests their own art­fully planned menu. Mark Lorusso, ex­ec­u­tive chef of Costa di Mare, re­mem­bers years prior in other restau­rants, when “a server would say, ‘There’s a veg­e­tar­ian here,’ and we’d run from station to station grab­bing veg­eta­bles to steam and put on a plate. Here we’ve em­braced plant-based din­ing. Hope­fully those guests don’t feel like they’ve had an al­ter­na­tive din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at all—just a re­ally great meal.” The chal­lenge at the out­set was com­ing up with thought­ful dishes that weren’t one-size-fits-all veg­gie pat­ties, but in­te­gral to each of a di­verse range of restau­rants that in­clude a Miche­lin-starred Chi­nese restau­rant, op­u­lent steak­houses, a loungey Asian fu­sion so­cial din­ing spot and a seafood restau­rant spe­cial­iz­ing in dif­fi­cult-to-ob­tain, sea­sonal seafood from the Mediter­ranean and Adri­atic seas, among oth­ers. En­ter Tal Ron­nen, the plant pioneer who, among other ac­com­plish­ments, catered Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton’s party at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion and the first ve­gan din­ner at the US Se­nate and was pro­nounced “the best ve­gan chef in Amer­ica” by Oprah Win­frey. Now the owner of pop­u­lar Los An­ge­les ve­gan restau­rant Cross­roads and founder of Kite Hill, he was in­tro­duced to Wynn by Dr. Dean Or­nish, him­self a trail­blazer in demon­strat­ing that diet changes can re­verse heart dis­ease. Over sev­eral months, Ron­nen col­lab­o­rated with the chefs at each of Wynn’s restau­rants to cre­ate dishes for 22 menus in all, from the most re­fined restau­rants to in-room din­ing and even the em­ployee cafe­te­ria. “The chefs and I have de­vel­oped a close friend­ship over the years. David Wal­zog [ex­ec­u­tive chef of SW Steak­house and Lake­side] was known for cook­ing great steaks, and now he and I are com­ing up with the most cre­ative dishes. He’s in­te­grat­ing more plant-based in­gre­di­ents into his own home life, and that’s ac­cu­rate for a lot of the other chefs. They’re tast­ing food all day long and find­ing that eating a lit­tle health­ier can get them through a long shift. And now they’re re­ally go­ing for it!” Ron­nen has re­turned at least twice each year for the last eight years to con­sult on the up­dates, in which time he says he’s seen both the menus and guests’ palates evolve. “We’ve been call­ing them veg­e­tar­ian menus, al­though the food is ac­tu­ally ve­gan. Now I feel like the word ‘ve­gan’ might not be as scary.” On the day we eat our way through nearly the en­tire ve­gan menu at Lake­side, chef de cui­sine David Mid­dle­ton is de­but­ing a charred

abalone mush­room that is meant to evoke noth­ing but the gi­ant, meaty mush­room it­self. “We score it like foie gras and roast it on the char­broiler, then we mar­i­nate it with sherry vine­gar and Di­jon mus­tard,” he says. Dot­ted with a Worces­ter­shire sauce ren­dered ve­gan by its lack of an­chovies, it’s served with farro, al­monds and sherry-soaked raisins— hit­ting vir­tu­ally every taste re­cep­tor. “Peo­ple have been talk­ing about sus­tain­able seafood for 20 years now,” Mid­dle­ton says, “but with data so much more ac­ces­si­ble now, peo­ple are more con­sci­en­tious about what they’re putting into their bod­ies when they’re go­ing out.” Tak­ing ad­van­tage of sea­sonal pro­duce is the purest ex­pres­sion of Ital­ian cui­sine, Lorusso ex­plains. New on his menu is a salad made of fre­gola (a Sar­dinian semolina pasta), freshly blanched fava beans and pis­ta­chios. “We’re us­ing the Amer­i­can pro­duce that you’d see in Italy: We get favas and peas from Cal­i­for­nia every day, beautiful morels from the Pa­cific Northwest or from north­ern Michigan, pick­led wild ramps from West Vir­ginia, and beautiful toma­toes from Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada and Arizona,” he says. As fall ap­proaches, the pro­duce changes but not the ap­proach. “Last fall, I got these big sugar pie pump­kins and served them as an ag­nolotti fill­ing in Tal’s ve­gan pasta, which is made with­out eggs,” he says. A sum­mery clas­sic tomato pan­zanella is re­placed by a roasted squash, cel­ery root, Brus­sels sprout, cran­berry and chest­nut ver­sion. A bit of sci­ence does come into play, Ron­nen ex­plains, as meat sub­sti­tutes have be­come more so­phis­ti­cated. In fact, Wynn was one of the first re­sorts in the world to use the so-called “Im­pos­si­ble” meat, made of wheat, coconut oil, pota­toes and other in­gre­di­ents, and con­tain­ing heme— which makes up part of the mol­e­cule he­mo­glo­bin and im­parts meat’s un­mis­tak­able metal­lic fla­vor—and can ac­tu­ally be sourced from the root nod­ules of legumes. The con­vinc­ing ground beef al­ter­na­tive is find­ing its way not only into the Im­pos­si­ble Burger at An­drea’s (served with frisee, kim­chi, pick­les, kalbi sauce and gochu­jang aioli), but also Thai crispy rice cups with Im­pos­si­ble meat, mint, cilantro, chili, onion, ginger and peanuts. “We’re tak­ing our time and re­ally in­fus­ing tech­niques into the prepa­ra­tion,” Ron­nen says. “Of course we’re us­ing the pro­tein al­ter­na­tives where they make sense, and we’re also re­ally us­ing those Asian tech­niques that are al­ready in­her­ently plant-based, with dif­fer­ent dashis, broths and sauces.” A cur­rent fa­vorite of Ron­nen’s: a pressed maitake mush­room brushed with an al­ready-ve­gan bar­be­cue sauce at Wing Lei. “It’s grilled like a mush­room rib, and you wouldn’t be­lieve it,” he says. As Wynn’s chefs have fos­tered their ve­gan menus’ in­de­pen­dence, some are even find­ing that the ve­gan of­fer­ings in­flu­ence the rest of the menu. “I usu­ally try to fig­ure out how to make most of the dish ve­gan,” Mid­dle­ton says, “and then show­case what­ever pro­tein we’re serv­ing. I think most of our fish dishes are ve­gan if you were to re­move the fish.” An­other new ad­di­tion is a Gardein Chick’n pro­tein rubbed in a cit­rus spice served atop cit­rus stewed pep­pers and a del­i­cate green chick­pea puree and topped with a chick­pea panisse—a prepa­ra­tion Lake­side reg­u­lars will rec­og­nize from the sword­fish. And where Ron­nen has been able to col­lab­o­rate with Wynn’s chefs over the years, he’s now look­ing for­ward to teach­ing his sec­ond Wynn Master Class. “There were peo­ple from all over the coun­try and the world, and we got to share the kitchen to­gether. It gives us the op­por­tu­nity to gauge how peo­ple are think­ing about food, and they get to see first­hand the kind of care that goes into the menus at Wynn,” Ron­nen says. “We’re all cook­ing to­gether, then sit­ting down to­gether to eat what we’ve made.” Whether at­ten­dees are lifelong ve­g­ans or new to plant-based eating, that’s a no­tion that’s both uni­ver­sal and time­less. A Taste of Cross­roads With Tal Ron­nen, Sept. 20, 12 pm, 702-770-7000; wynnlasve­gas.com

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