Today, July 25, is National Culinarians Day. A day that celebrates those who cook and does not distinguish between those who cook for fun at home or those who’ve trained at leading culinary institutes.
Our skills here at Spotlight lean toward the former, so we spoke to someone who really knows their way around a kitchen, Executive Chef Robert Neese of Culinary Arts Catering, The Smith Center’s food and beverage provider and one of our preferred special events catering companies. Neese keeps his sights set high as a classically French-trained Las Vegas native with a taste for Japanese cooking.
On show nights, food and beverage service at the center includes a selection of grab-and-go offerings in the Mezzanine Lounge of Reynolds Hall. In Cabaret Jazz the menu consists of a suite of bento boxes where Neese uses all fresh, seasonal and often locally sourced ingredients to deliver artful arrangements like the Italian antipasto (no one ever went wrong with prosciutto di Parma) and the wine-pairing perfect fruit and fromage plate with five kinds of cheese.
Then there are the special events catering menus. From a pre-show VIP dinner, each with their own custom menus in the Founders Room, to fundraising galas or community reception, Neese and his team execute show-stopping culinary masterpieces.
Speaking of once-in-a-lifetime events, The Smith Center is often the background to stunning wedding receptions that sometimes turn into a foodie extravaganza. For example, former Comme Ça chef Brian Howard held his wedding at the center. No pressure, right?
“No pressure at all. ‘We had 200 people, maybe 150 of them chefs from around town,’” Neese laughed. “He brought in a 250-pound pig from his farm and we cooked it here.”
Before he came to Culinary Arts Catering, and more specifically overseeing The Smith Center operations, Neese was at Bradley Ogden inside Caesars Palace. He has also spent time behind the line at Andre Rochat’s Mistral, Roy’s and Nero’s Steakhouse. All that fine dining experience explains why the Le Cordon Bleu grad has a nose for the offbeat and unusual. Don’t be surprised if one day the center offers dulse, a strain of algae that was developed at Oregon State to taste like bacon.
“I’m looking for something that nobody has,” Neese said. “I’d definitely dehydrate it, make chips out of it, and serve it with a nice aioli.”
Now to find a wine that pairs with bacon seaweed.
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