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Executive Chef Kim Canteenwalla

Society Cafe Encore

    
   
TravelsinTaste.com recently had the delight of enjoying a meal with Executive Chef Kim Canteenwalla of Society Café Encore, who let us in on a few of his secrets and also told us about his fascinating road to Encore! We listened to his tales of international travel and to his accounts of the unique way he prepares each of his dishes. To read more about our meal, please read on. And to read the full listing for Society Café Encore, click here.

We started our conversation with Chef Canteenwalla by asking him how he made his way to Encore and to Las Vegas. "I grew in Montreal and started off my career in independent restaurants," Chef Canteenwalla told us. "Then I moved onto hotels. I left Canada and took my first position as executive chef in a hotel in Bermuda. It was a small boutique hotel with 62 rooms and two restaurants, which is a lot for a 62-room hotel. From there I moved to Southeast Asia, then the Middle East. I worked in Bali, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Dubai -- all in hotels as executive chef, all the way along moving up from smaller boutiques to larger hotels. I was in Dubai and I wasn't really happy there. It was at the time that Steve Wynn owned the Mirage (the Mirage, Bellagio, Treasure Island) and his latest project was Beau Rivage in Mississippi, right after he completed the Bellagio. It was this gorgeous, beautiful property right on the water. My best buddy, who is also Canadian, opened the Bellagio and called me in Dubai to ask me if I wanted to come. I wasn't thinking casino at the time. A month went by and Elizabeth Blau called me and said, 'Listen, we're in New York. Fly to New York; we'll pay your way.' At that point I wasn't really happy in Dubai, Bellagio had opened, Beau Rivage had just opened and one of the chefs at the Bellagio was nominated as a James Beard award winner. So I went to the Beard awards in New York with them, I went on a dine-around in New York with them and then went to look at Beau Rivage. They made me an offer when I got there; it was already open, but they were going through some issues with the executive chef. The day before I answered the offer I came to Las Vegas and went to look at Treasure Island, and they made me an offer at Treasure Island also. Beau Rivage was one month old; it was a smaller scale Bellagio on the water -- even more beautiful than in my mind -- so I took the position at Beau Rivage. Two years went by and Steve Wynn sold to MGM Mirage. From there I transferred to MGM as executive chef. My first hotel where I was executive chef was a 62-room hotel and my last hotel as executive chef had 5,032 rooms. I worked for that for one to two years, then Elizabeth started this company (Blau and Associates) and I went into it. We also have a partnership with Kerry Simon, so from there it just evolved into restaurant concepts, hotels and the like. We've done work all over the world and it led to this."

   
     
    
Skewers

Speaking of Kerry Simon, we knew Chef Canteenwalla had made an appearance on Iron Chef -- his wife, Elizabeth Blau, has also judged the highly popular show -- so we asked him about his appearance. "When I did Iron Chef the first time, I assisted Kerry Simon. He's our partner, not in [Society Café Encore], but in Simon Kitchen and Bar, which at the time was at the Hard Rock and now is Simon at the Palms. It was a lot of fun. Our secret ingredient was ground beef. When you are cooking, it goes by extremely fast, that one hour. It's go-go-go. You see the item and go, 'OK, cameras are all over the place.' I've seen a guy slice the top of his finger off. I was putting beer into ground beef and I put my finger on top of the beer to control it, which was the wrong move [because beer went everywhere]. The cameras caught it and played it three times and repeated it twice, which was fine; they had a little fun with it!"

With so many travels and unique experiences under his belt, we wondered what attracted Chef Canteenwalla to Society Café Encore, where he is executive chef and partner! "I love the buzz of the place, and the power breakfast and power lunch scenario," he said. "Plus, people come in and just hang from the pool. There's enough of a vibe that you feel comfortable in shorts, or that you can come in and do business -- a breakfast or lunch. Dinner will take on a whole new element with the new bar, which will be finished shortly!"

Speaking of dinner, the first dish we sampled during our meal with Chef Canteenwalla was from the "Sticks, Picks & Finger Food" section of the menu: the Skewers. "Made of sugarcane shrimp, this is actually a Balinese dish, Satay Lilit, which really means seafood, but I only do shrimp," Chef Canteenwalla explained. "I only do minced shrimp with ginger, shallots, red curry paste, Kafir lime leaf, coconut, brown sugar and cilantro. The ingredients are all minced together and then we put it on the skewer, which is made out of sugarcane. We get a little sweetness out of that and we simply sear it."

   
     
      
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