Chef Anthony Amoroso
Michael Mina | Las Vegas
Growing up in an Italian-American family – especially when there’s an Italian grandma in the kitchen – seems to spark chef dreams in certain kids. Amoroso was an apt pupil at his grandmother’s side in the kitchen; in a sense, he’s never left the kitchen since.
He attended culinary school at the Culinary Arts Institute of Hudson County College, and started his first professional kitchen training at the Hilton at Short Hills in New Jersey. But his first foray into the world of high-caliber fine dining cuisine was at Oceana in New York City. Amoroso worked under the guidance of Oceana’s then seafood-guru Executive Chef Rick Moonen, as a sous chef and then advanced to chef de cuisine. It was at Oceana that Amoroso learned how to use high-quality products for a three-star menu. From there, Amoroso joined Rick Moonen’s team to open Branzini and then, in the role as Executive Chef, to open RM Seafood in Manhattan.
But the lure of the restaurant craze in Vegas called and Amoroso left New York in 2003. He was recruited by Michael White to be the opening Executive Chef of Fiamma Trattoria and Bar at MGM Grand. In 2005, Amoroso moved up the strip to head the kitchen of Michael Mina at the Bellagio where he whips out Mina’s classic trios and what he dubs innovative seafood dishes.
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Antoinette Bruno: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
Anthony Amoroso: I opened RM in New York, with Rick. I'd worked with him at Oceana. I left and went to Fiamma (in New York) and Steve Hanson. Then I came out here and opened Fiamma.
AB: Who are some of your mentors?
AA: Michael Mina, my grandma, Michael White, and Rick Moonen.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
AA: What’s the last cookbook you read?
AB: What’s your most indispensible kitchen tool? Why?
AA: My Haziki knife. It’s perfectly balanced and holds an edge. And what would we do without Vita-Prep? How could we do celery root puree? On a Hamilton Beach blender? You would burn the motor out and it would taste like crap.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
AA: Culinary Artistry. Karen [Page] and Andrew [Dornenburg] speak more to us than the mainstream.
AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
AA: I'd go to Tokyo for sure. I have to see it. I've never been, and I have only heard amazing things. They try to be perfect on a regular basis. Something as simple as serving tea, or their fish markets, or how they handle produce. If for nothing else, [I want to go] to see that.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants, off the beaten path, in your city?
AA: Settebello [Pizzeria Napoletana]. I was just there yesterday. Strip Steak, Joyful House Chinese Cuisine—the owner is the chef at Pearl (MGM Grand)—and Lotus of Siam.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining? How have you changed in your philosophy in the last few years?
AA: More diligence. When you're younger you want kitchen cohesion, you want a more serene kitchen. But with experience you realize that you have to be more diligent.
AB: Has your role as chef changed?
AA: Over time you mature and start to become a mentor and a figure for people who work for you. You have to lead by example, like you can still go in and work on their station better than them even though you don't do it all the time. I’m always working to instill professionalism. I find that I'm giving financial advice, too. I don't feel old in any way—I can out-run all of [my young cooks]! They are younger but they don't take care of themselves. They get up at 10:45 to be here at noon, get their coffee, get to work, then get off and tear it up again. I'm trying to teach them that you can't do that all the time. Little by little, you get through. Maybe they’ll learn to not drink so much, to sit down to eat, to eat twice a day, to not smoke so much…
AB: What do you do to keep in shape?
AA: I get up at 7am, run, and am back home by 9am. In the summer I get up at 5:30am because it's too hot. I cycle more than anything. I can put in time for running, but my knees don't like it.
AB: Which person in history would you most like to cook for? Who would you most like to cook for you?
AA: My grandmother, for both. She got too sick before she could come out here, so she's never been here. I'd love to cook for her here.
AB: What improvements have you seen at the restaurant?
AA: We’ve got one Michelin star. We’ve got 4 diamonds from AAA, and we’ve done well with Mobil. We've gotten our check average up by about $30 since 2005. In the last three years the numbers of people coming to Las Vegas are still the same, but the number of restaurants has gone up. So the competition is there. If there's something eating into your numbers you have to find new ways to build your check average. I’m even with last year's March right now.
AB: How has the current economy affected the restaurant, if at all?
AA: We have parties booked every other day here for the rest of the year, which shows me that we're doing okay. The hotel is doing well. I wouldn't want to open right now though; it could be kind of tough. But if you're here and doing the right thing, you’re fine.
AB: What about local product availability?
AA: There is some, but you'll find that you deplete the supply very quickly. They can't keep up with us.
AB: How would you describe your culinary philosophy?
AA: Philosophically, less is more. You start to really hone in on what you like and what you don't like. You don't notice what you don't like until you have your sous doing specials and you realized that they've done too much and you start taking stuff out. It has to be cohesive.
AB: What’s next for you?
AA: I can't say too much about it! I'll get in trouble if I do. We are doing something as a group in the CityCenter. We don't know everything about it yet. The most exciting part is that you have to fill that center with people and to see a whole new group of people move here to fill that space. It will be new blood and inspire everyone here to kind of outdo the grandeur. The project is massive and the attention is going to be massive. Every resource will be poured into it. We'll have to work very hard to retain staff and customers. It will inspire everyone to push harder. The best part of CityCenter is that I can use it as a motivational tool: Bellagio is supposed to be one of the best hotels, and we're in it. It will also create traffic in my neighborhood, so it won't be bad for me. It's right here, a stone's throw away. It won't be Michael Mina; it will be a new concept. I don't know the name yet. It's crazy how much is going on!
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