Three chefs all share a single goal: creating their own artistic representation of the Wynn experience.
When Sinatra executive Chef theo Schoenegger describes the inspiration for his craft, it is quite possible that you might mistake him for an architect or a painter. his major influencers include artists from Michelangelo and Rembrandt to picasso and dalí, and “the warmth of our environment, our butterflies and dragonflies” are environmental muses. You might smile when you realize he is talking about the lobster risotto he serves at Sinatra at Encore, but then he is describing food elevated to an art. “if you look at how cooking has evolved, it has gone from putting something on a plate to manipulating its elements to the most artful creations. proportion, height, schemes, colors”—all perform a balletic role when Schoenegger’s lobster curls its way around a precisely molded risotto. “i like clean lines,” he explains. Sauces and garnishes must make as much visual sense as they do on the palate.
this is the common bond among Wynn and Encore chefs: they all design and execute dishes with unyielding precision, though their influences lie in vastly different cultures and are based on decades of distinctly personal experiences. Recently Schoenegger joined Chef Chen Wei Chan of Wazuzu and Wing lei’s Chef Ming Yu at the newly redesigned Wing lei to discuss their influences and artistic signatures.
how do you set out to create a new dish?
Chen Wei Chan: i started as an apprentice in a kitchen after four years of training in watercolors and oils at a taiwanese art school. Before Rosewood little dix Bay’s Sugar Mill and working at the Carlysle in New York and opening the Chedi in oman, that was my training. So when i try to create a special dish, i sometimes draw it. i like to put every ingredient on a piece of paper so i can imagine how i can present it well.
Theo Schoenegger: For me, it is very organic; it’s about the feeling of the ingredients in your hands. And it is about gathering inspiration from these places of high energy and influence—like when I worked at Patina [in the Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles] and I was working from the palette of the farmers market in Santa Monica. There is nothing more beautiful than the color of a purple carrot, or a glistening pomegranate. There you have your inspiration. Ming Yu: The idea for a dish is conceived in my head, and I play around with it for several weeks sometimes. There’s a lot of trial and error. But with the renovation of Wing Lei, which is so sparkling and new, every aspect of the food had to reflect that cleaner, brighter, more colorful aesthetic. One of the dishes that is almost a literal interpretation of the art in Wing Lei is a smoked salmon “flower”—inspired by the golden chrysanthemums in the restaurant. But as a signature dish, the crab salad with bright mango, avocado, and miso-yuzu dressing is an example of that bright new ideal.
Does art influence the way that you compose your dishes?
Chen: When I stepped into Wazuzu for the first time for my interview, the 27-foot crystal dragon made with 90,000 crystals in the middle of the room just caught my eye. It is a mascot and the symbol for Wazuzu, and as a chef it became important to incorporate it into our new dishes. In fact, we use a custom-made iron to brand our Wazuzu signature Dragon Slider with a dragon—and we serve it with our private stock Australian Sher Wagyu beef.
“I like to put every ingredient on a piece of paper so I can imagine how I can present it well.” — chen wei chan
Schoenegger: Growing up in an isolated area like the Dolomites, as beautiful as it is, motivated me to explore the world, and in doing so, I have been exposed to so much art. I had the pleasure to observe Sandro Chia while he painted his famous mural in Palio [the 128-foot mural of the Palio horse race in Siena, which Chia painted in the Palio Bar on West 51st Street in New York City], and I met Andy Warhol in the early years there. I cooked for Frank Sinatra on several occasions, which really helped shape the Sinatra experience.
Yu: I draw inspiration every day I am in the dining room, but just being in Wynn and Encore and experiencing how the colors and décor compliment each other makes me think more creatively. And we are so immersed in the space; I actually designed our Peking Duck carts specifically for the room.
Chen: I’m always thinking about creating art. Of course, I’m inspired by other chefs at Wynn; the multidimensional, sculptural quality of our wok-fried Wagyu beef with black pepper sauce served on a crispy deep-fried noodle basket is directly inspired by my experience of the resort and its art.
Who inspires you at Wynn?
Yu: I like to talk to my friend [Mizumi chef] Devin Hashimoto. We talk a lot about ideas for presentations, and his Big Island Abalone and Black Truffle Chawanmushi [a riff on a Japanese egg custard dish] is pure art.
Chen: The Wynn and Encore buildings themselves are pieces of art. I still remember the first time I came to Las Vegas, just staying here and looking and looking. It reminds me every day that we have this impeccable, five-star resort, and we strive to create artful food that maintains that standard.
Schoenegger: Popeye! How can you not be inspired by that guy? n
Chefs Theo Schoenegger, Chen Wei Chan, and Ming Yu.
Lobster risotto at Sinatra. 54
The dragon is a strong inf l uence on Wazuzu’s design, from the walls to the plates.
Wagyu beef served on a crispy noodle basket at Wazuzu.
The main dining room at Wing Lei inspires the chef’s plating presentations.
56 Chef Ming Yu in the kitchen at Wing Lei (above) and his colorful creation: crab salad with mango and avocado.