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Mariana Alvarado
Portrait by Christopher Smith

Dining: A Talent for Taste

Desert Companion

Vegas’ new generation of food and beverage professionals focuses on craft, quality, and niche appeal

Even before the pandemic, the Vegas food and beverage world was a challenging place to excel. Today, it’s arguably one of the toughest business arenas in which to build a lasting career. That’s what makes this diverse group of talented professionals particularly special: Dedicated to their particular passion — whether it’s artisanal corn or craft beer — they’ve patiently hustled for years to emerge as respected industry leaders.

 

Corn is Queen

Mariana Alvarado
Founder, Masazul

With generations of family heritage behind her, Mariana Alvarado is changing the face of Latin American cuisine in Las Vegas, one tortilla at a time. And, notably, many of those corn wrappers are blue.

“We nixtamalize fresh masa,” says Alvarado, the founder of Masazul. Nixtamalize refers to the ancient process of using alkaline water to process maize kernels to remove their husks and release nutrients and the resulting soft dough. The company’s marquee masa is made with indigo-hued, stone-ground heirloom corn from Oaxaca, Mexico.

Alvarado, who hails from Mexico City, arrived in 2008 and graduated in culinary arts from UNLV. She first entered the local food and beverage industry with a nearly decade-long stretch at a Las Vegas Strip classic: Spago.

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Masazul launched recently, but its roots are deep. “We started last year in April,” Alvarado says. “I got divorced, and I didn’t want to work for anybody else. I’m a chef and always specialized in traditional Mexican cuisine. I learned from grandmas in old towns where my dad is from — 5,000 people. I literally went to their kitchens and learned techniques that they’re preserving, but they’re not writing down.”

Alvarado is doing her part to spread that knowledge; her operations now include food preparation, wholesaling to high-profile ¡VIVA! by chef Ray Garcia in Resorts World, as well as selling retail wares at farmers markets and beyond. “We’re bringing the real corn to Las Vegas.”

 

Toast the Underdog

Michael Snodgrass
President & Partner, West Coast Beverages

Michael Snodgrass

Photo by Jose DeElmont

Millions of people say “cheers” every year in Las Vegas, and Michael Snodgrass has been behind countless glass-clinkings throughout his eventful beverage career, something that led him to join forces with West Coast Beverages almost two years ago.

Snodgrass moved to Las Vegas with his family as a youth, and has been a part of the food and beverage industry for most of his life. His resumé lists top-notch restaurants such as RM Seafood, Border Grill, Spago, Bouchon, and Herringbone. For a significant stretch, he was a sommelier and wine manager at OTTO in the Venetian, and was later on teams at Eataly and Breakthru Beverage, all of which paved the way to West Coast Beverages.

Assuming control of a modest portfolio of wines and other hard drinks, he and his team have greatly expanded the company’s footprint in a notoriously crowded field of giant wholesalers with big wallets and vast staff. “We’re in Esther’s (Kitchen), we’re in Main Street Provisions,” Snodgrass says. “We’re starting to grow and be in a lot of the bigger accounts.”

The Nevada trade in adult beverages is dominated by gargantuan conglomerates, something Snodgrass believes gives his much smaller team a competitive edge in the marketplace. “We’re able to pick up the ball where they can’t,” he says. “We’re able to offer better service, be more aggressive. We really bring products to the market that don’t have means for distribution with the larger companies,” he says. Beyond being a business leader, Snodgrass also teaches wine certification classes and is finishing an undergraduate degree in business communications at UNLV.

 

Tiramisu for All

Keris Kuwana
Corporate Pastry Chef, LEV Group

Keris Kuwana

Photo by Jose DeElmont

If you’ve picked up a hearty chocolate chip cookie at a local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf location or you’ve forked into the delicate tiramisu at Al Solito Posto in Tivoli Village, you’ve tasted the sweetness of Keris Kuwana’s team at LEV Group. “Anything you can think of pastry-wise, that’s me,” Kuwana says.

Kuwana, corporate pastry chef for the restaurant management company, oversees a lean staff that supplies a citywide network of eateries from a surprisingly compact kitchen in Downtown Las Vegas.

“We have 60 locations, different restaurants,” says Kuwana, who grew up in Hawaii. Making her way to Southern Nevada after college, Kuwana studied kitchen arts with an emphasis in pastry at the former Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Summerlin.

Her work in the epicurean world first blended her tropical island upbringing with the neon-lit Mojave Desert at the lauded Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine. From there, she went on to work in galleys at famed Aureole, Bachi Burger, Alex Stratta at the Wynn, and Chocolate & Spice Bakery. Eventually, she joined 50 Eggs Hospitality Group, the Miami-based restaurant concern that owns Yardbird Southern Table and Chica. Understandably, it was a significant change in mindset to move from huge casino kitchens to a much more snug space at LEV Group.

“I am learning a lot more about the to-go aspect,” says Kuwana, who was much more used to filling enormous convention banquet orders than suburban takeouts. “It’s been a learning curve … but a lot of fun.”

 

Brewing Up a Scene

Rose Signor
Owner, The Silver Stamp Bar

Rose SignorAre you a fan of fine beers? Chances are Rose Signor has filled a frosty pint glass or two for you over the years.

“I went to college in Albany (New York) called Saint Rose, majoring in broadcast journalism,” says Signor of the winding path that led to recently opening the Silver Stamp bar in Downtown’s Gateway District. “I did three years there and realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I moved out to Vegas.”

It was the perfect destination. She had spent significant vacation time here as a youth; loves the desert climate; and wanted to forge a career in the food and beverage world.

That career began at Buffalo Wild Wings. From there, it was slinging suds at gaming bars such as Bounty Hunters where she honed her skills in spirits. A yearlong break to rainy Seattle opened her eyes to the possibilities of craft beers. Following her return to Las Vegas, she took on notable management roles at the Bunkhouse Saloon and Atomic Liquors, both renowned Downtown watering holes.

Finally, after a lengthy international backpacking trip with her partner, Andrew Smith, the two decided to open their own palace of suds. But it was a bumpy ride in opening the Silver Stamp’s front door: SBA loans were nonexistent, even for a woman-owned business; and contractor troubles resulted in an unworkable first buildout.

However, Signor and Smith persevered. The two learned the construction plans inside and out, and leaned in (with power tools), resulting in a perfect rendition of a vintage Americana neighborhood bar featuring some of the tastiest pours in town.

“I’m very much a believer in ‘if there’s a will there’s a way,’” she says, “and I don’t really let people tell me ‘no’ a lot.”

 

Pastry Perfection

Florent Cheveau
Owner, Burgundy Bakery & Cafe

Florent CheveauWalk into chef Florent Cheveau’s lovely Burgundy Cafe & Bakery in Village Square and an eye-popping array of quiches, macarons, croissants, and beyond will transport you in spirit to France. Having grown up in a small town in his restaurant’s namesake region, Cheveau entered the bakery and confectionery profession at an early age, common in France. “I started when I was 15 years old,” Cheveau says. “I knew I wanted to be a baker.”

He was ambitious. “I was obsessed with MOF,” he says of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a prestigious competition that includes numerous aspects of the overall service industry.

This led to four years of working early shifts and practicing his craft in pastries and chocolates until late at night, day in, day out. This in turn led him to the Bellagio in 2007, where MOF-winner Jean-Philippe Maury once reigned over the pastry program. Thus began his American career, starting with almost eight years at the once-famed Jean Philippe Patisserie. After that, he oversaw a team of bakers as executive pastry chef at the MGM Grand.

Always goal-oriented, Cheveau had a dual plan from his earliest shifts at the Bellagio: compete as a world-class chocolatier and eventually open his own shop. He did both. In 2018, he was named the USA champion in the World Chocolate Masters competition. And, in the fall of 2020, he welcomed the public inside his supremely Gallic culinary atelier. Once working behind the scenes at a megaresort, now he’s front and center as a shop owner. “I enjoy it so much,” he says.

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