EP 1: Chef Keith Norman, Assistant Executive Chef Silverado Steak House, South Point Hotel Spa and Casino
Featured as the first Inspired Dining Series event, a collection of dining experiences in conjunction with the Epicurean Charitable Foundation (ECF) to discuss food, mentorship and the future of Hospitality in Las Vegas, it was alongside Assistant Executive Chef and Food Safety Manager for the South Point Hotel & Casino Keith Norman that dinner was enjoyed at Silverado Steakhouse. This Old Vegas room torqued by Chef John Romine proving to be far better than many locals might have ever guessed.
Chosen for the first of these meals, thanks to both Chef Norman’s contributions as a Mentor and South Point Director of Food Operations Michael Kennedy’s position as Chairman of the ECF Board, was a group of five including one local Mentee that the group was greeted by a pleasant hostess and led to a table towards the back of the room. The space, which is decorated with hand painted murals and vintage photographs, is elegant yet comfortable as patrons of all ages and demographics were seen smiling over plates of both innovative seasonal options and traditional Steakhouse fare.
Embracing the old way of doing things in terms of service, the Potatoes loaded and Salads tossed tableside, it was over the course of nearly two-and-a-half hours that Keith, a young mentee named Ben and three others shared stories and opinions about the current state of the industry and how Chef Norman got his start cooking in his Grandmother’s kitchen. He and four of his brothers are all Chefs and Keith himself a Marine Corps veteran who came straight to Las Vegas and landed a spot at Bally’s where “Chef Warner – that old-time Chef who gave me my first shot, he took me through the paces from Graveyard to Swing shift to Days.”
Enjoying three styles of warm bread from Great Buns Bakery and a glass of house Wine with appetizers, the underage mentee abstaining and keeping a good distance from the glass throughout the night, it was over an amuse composed of both King and Blue Crab with only a bit of filler that stories about Keith’s time opening The Mirage were remembered. “A great ‘wow’ moment working with Mr. Wynn and Certified Master Chef Gustav Mauler” was cited as an inspiration to do things the right way; the same way Silverado cooks their tender Mushrooms in Burgundy Wine with Garlic and composes the Caesar Salad topped with Dressing with a bold smack of Worcestershire Sauce and Anchovy Paste.
Making almost everything possible on-site for nearly ten years since moving from Suncoast to South Point, Chef Norman stating “I’m not a mover and a shaker, if I’m with a good company I’m gonna stay.” It was while further discussing his time at the Mirage and then Treasure Island that he first suggested passion as the most important thing a youth can bring with them to the industry, “because if you aren’t passionate you’re just spinning your wheels,” a memorable bit of truth recalled between bites of Barbeque Prime Rib ‘Tacos’ served on crispy Won Ton Shells.
Enjoying dinner during Las Vegas Restaurant Week, the Chicken Vesuvio cooked in sweet Wine with Artichoke Hearts and Mushrooms is a crowd pleaser befitting a Casino described as having “a local feel.” It was here that Chef Keith spent some time discussing how a background of discipline benefitted him and contributed to his worldview and his reasons for working with the Epicurean Charitable Foundation. “Right after I graduated from boot camp, I was out on my own, right out in the world so I had to grow up quick. One of my first bosses in the Marine Corps was just that kind of guy – took me under his wing and taught me the things I needed to learn. Those are the kind of things I try to give back.”
Noteworthy for setting a high standard in Allergy awareness, every restaurant on the South Point property deemed allergen friendly and recently winning “a national award for the best Allergy Program through a company called Allertrain.” The South Point’s Food Safety Manager went on to say that he became interested in such things while teaching students for nine years at the Art Institute. “So when ServSafe was mandatory, a lot of the properties who knew I taught food safety reached out to me.”
Thoroughly enjoying a clever plate called the “Filet Trio,” a trifecta of Steak Medallions served on toasted Bread beneath house made Sauces, it was as the group carved up the 16oz Dry Aged Rib Eye that Keith went on to say, “I’ve never believed that Health Departments should have to make us do what we as Chefs should be doing anyway.” He followed up by saying, “We really have to raise the bar – protect the A.” His parting advice to Ben was to treat “every day as a learning experience and never forget that.”
Certainly not planning to skip Dessert after such a meal, though the lack of an on-site pastry kitchen does mean most items are imported from elsewhere save for the best-selling Beignets and Vodka-spiked Dark Chocolate Ice Cream served with seasonal Berries, it was with a smile that Ben stated “there is not an employee on the property who won’t mention how good Chef Keith’s attitude is or how passionate he is.” As dinner was finished with Coffee alongside Sticky Toffee Pudding and a Warm Apple Crumb Cake, the contended crowd departing on Chef Norman’s advice that “if you can maintain [a positive] attitude and make sure that everyone is better in your presence you’re going to go a long way.”