Culinary Queen Elizabeth Blau: Beauty & Brains

A STRIKING BALANCE OF BEAUTY AND BRAINS, Elizabeth Blau is the epitome of a woman having and doing it all.

When Blau isn’t busy playing Mommy to her 8-year-old son, Cole, wife and business partner to Society Café’s Chef Kim Canteenwalla, serving on one of several boards, including Communities In Schools, she’s helping transform Las Vegas into a world-class culinary destination.

After graduating from Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Blau worked for renowned restaurateur Sirio Maccioni of the famed Le Cirque. It was her efforts with Le Cirque that caught the discerning eye of family friend Steve Wynn. Tasked with overseeing the development of the food and beverage program for Wynn’s newest endeavor—Bellagio—Blau recruited culinary notables such as Todd English, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Michael Mina to the revolutionary new dining scene.

During the past 15 years, Blau & Associates has become one of the leading hospitality planning and development companies in the world, with projects in Macau, Singapore, The Ritz-Carlton hotels and Trump and Wynn resorts.

I recently caught up with the busy entrepreneur at her restaurant, which she operates with longtime partner and acclaimed chef, Kerry Simon, at Simon Restaurant & Lounge in Palms Place.

During a bountiful of wok-charred edamame, Iron Chef 30 Minute Lunch (bacon cheddar sliders, fries, Caesar salad and vanilla milkshake), yellowtail jalapeño sushi, yellowtail scallion roll, grilled king salmon prepared by Simon’s executive chef, Ben Halley, Blau dished about the evolution of Vegas’ culinary landscape and her latest project with her husband—Honey Salt.

How did you get into the F&B business?

My parents are passionate about food and art. As a young kid, I traveled all over the United States and outside of the country with my parents and sister; we were always eating out and visiting museums. And I just developed a passion for chefs and food. Before it was cool, I was always fascinated by the business.

Is there one project that you feel was a game-changer for your career?

Bellagio was life changing and game changing for the city. Nobody had ever done anything on that scale or that magnitude before. Steve Wynn had a vision, and we assembled an amazing team of people to execute it. Bellagio will always be that project that turned things around for me—professionally—and the city.

How did the collaboration with Kerry Simon come about?

When we were opening Bellagio, one of the chefs I was recruiting with was Jean-George Vongerichten. Kerry was helping Vongerichten open Vong restaurants around the world.

So, when we made the deal with Jean-George, part of the agreement was that Kerry would open Prime. We were both transplants from the East Coast, and didn’t know anyone, so we ended up spending a lot of time together vacationing, skiing and hiking at Mount Charleston—we became best friends.

What makes Simon Restaurant & Lounge a great power lunch spot?

We have floor-to-ceiling glass windows, so we get amazing natural light and energy, which is nice for people working in a casino or office. It’s also easy to get in and out of, with convenient valet. And Kerry just does food that you want to eat—there’s something for everyone, from sushi to burgers and fries.

If you weren’t at the helm at Blau & Associates what would you be doing?

I would be a camp counselor for kids. I was a water ski instructor at Camp Lennox in Massachusetts my freshman, sophomore and junior years in college. I love being with kids, and I love my role on the board of Communities In Schools.

My husband and I also do a lot of work with Three Square; Kim is on their culinary counsel. It was really the Backpack Program that attracted us. It’s amazing to think about the number of children in our city that need food to get through the weekend.

Tell me about your new project Honey Salt.

We live in Summerlin, and we loved Nora’s, our son loved Nora’s—so we were really comfortable in that space. Honey Salt is a take on the farm-to-table concept with approachable food combined with our love to entertain at home.

Ultimately, we were inspired by recipes that we’ve done over the years entertaining and recipes from our family and friends. The vibe will be like the neighborhood places I like to visit in the East and West Village or in L.A. It will be family-friendly early evening and a great date-night place later in the evening. We’ll also serve lunch and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

Describe your favorite local food experience.

I’ve been to Kubota several times, and I find it fascinating. When you see the quality of his rice, seafood and the technique—it’s just a magical experience.

If you could travel anywhere in the world for a food and wine weekend getaway, where would it be?

Without question, it would be Paris. I have this whole eating tour that includes an unbelievable falafel stand in Le Marais. But, for me it’s all about history—cheese, bread and pastries. Just to get some bread, butter, cheese and a couple bottles of wine and go someplace for a picnic—it’s all about the simplicity of food in Europe.

Who was your last power lunch with?

It was in New York City this summer at Michael’s, with my dear friend Jerry Inzerillo, president and CEO of IMG. Michael’s is the power lunch spot in L.A. and N.Y., and Jerry has the power table in New York City. I arrived early, so it was amusing to see people try to figure out who was sitting at the table and whom I was waiting for. In reality, it had nothing to do with business—just two good friends having lunch.

If you could have one last meal what would it be?

Dessert. My favorite is still this crème brûlée doughnut. Our former pastry chef, who now works at the Viceroy in Aspen, makes these giant doughnut holes filled with actual crème brûlée cream; outside is caramelized, so it cracks when you bite into it, and the crème brûlée oozes out—it’s so good.

If you could have power lunch with anyone living or dead who would it be?

Julia Childs. She was so instrumental in changing how Americans eat.

Previously published by diamondcake. Updated by smallTALK. Archived for Queen Elizabeth Blau.