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Las Vegas is known for its lavish, celebrity-chef restaurants on the Strip, but that’s not the only place good food is being made.
Many chefs that worked at those restaurants have left to start their own passion projects in neighborhoods around the valley.
James Trees is the owner and chef at Esther's Kitchen downtown. He actually left his job working for a restaurant group in Los Angeles to come back to his hometown and create his own place.
He said the day he decided to do it was freeing.
“I think every entrepreneur and every chef that is going off-Strip is seeing that freedom,” he said.
Trees said at restaurants in Strip hotels there is usually a food and beverage manager looking over the chef's shoulder telling him or her which products to buy, what to cook and how to keep costs low.
Now, he cooks with the motive of treating his guests like community and "doing the best we can for them."
Esther's Kitchen employes four full-time bakers to make fresh bread every day, Trees said, a cost that would be too much for most restaurants.
“But for us, it’s all about pride. It’s all about making something that we can’t buy,” he said.
Trees said in big resorts the steak that is served at a high-end restaurant is the same as the steak served by room service. However, he can buy his meat from a farmer in Northern California and get a higher quality.
Ralph Perrazzo, the owner and chef at BBD's, agreed.
BBD's is open now at Palace Station, which is a large resort, but Perrazzo said he's been given the freedom to buy his own product and run the restaurant he wants.
“And it’s because I’m allowed to do what I want and I can actually use my relationships to get that product," he said.
He buys whole steers from a farm in Washington State that his team breaks down and turns into high-end steaks and fresh burgers.
Perrazzo said now that the culinary scene has grown off the Strip, people who know good food are seeking his place and others out.
“The people who really care about what they put in their body will come to our restaurants even if the celebrity, high-end restaurants are still on the Strip,” he said.
One of the places foodies are seeking out is in a small strip mall in the city's southwest called Black Sheep. Black Sheep offers Vietnamese food with an American twist.
Owner and chef Jamie Tran said she couldn't express her creativity as a chef when she worked at a Strip restaurant. She wanted to bring what she missed about her home to a plate.
“I think a lot of people bring their culture, their backgrounds, their hearts, their soul into the kitchen that we’re creating locally now,” she said.
She said her partners in the business were a little concerned about bringing non-tradition Vietnamese food to a suburban setting, but Tran said she was confident about her food and knew people would like it.
“There’s a lot of people like me who just want to have a neighborhood joint like us and have that quality of food but locally here and we don’t have to charge people an arm and a leg,” she said.
Tran pointed out that because her restaurant has lower overhead costs she can charge less.
As the city grows, there is more of a call for good, local food. Trees said people are looking for the kind of food that he and others are making — slightly elevated but not too expensive.
Vegas Unstripped food festival wants to showcase that food and the chefs behind it.
Featured chefs include Oscar Amador of EDO Tapas, which was named Best Restaurant of 2018 by Desert Companion Magazine. Brian Howard of Sparrow + Wolf, which won the same honor in 2017, will also participate, alongside James Beard Award-winning chefs Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam and Sheridan Su of Fat Choy and Flock & Fowl.
James Trees, chef/owner, Esther's Kitchen; Jamie Tran, chef/owner, Black Sheep; Ralph Perrazzo, chef/owner, BBD's
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