Under The Toque: Light Group’s Massie strives for universal appeal

Under The Toque: Light Group’s Massie strives for universal appeal

Although he enjoyed cooking from a young age, Brian Massie’s parents initially talked him out of going to culinary school. But it didn’t take long for him to find his way back to the kitchen. After graduating from college, he spent a year cooking and decided that was what he wanted to do with his life, so he enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America [3] in Hyde Park, N.Y. While in school there, he worked weekends for renowned chef Lidia Bastianich in New York City.

Now, as corporate executive chef and partner for The Light Group [4] in Las Vegas, Massie oversees menus at Fix Restaurant and Bar at the Bellagio Hotel, Stack Restaurant and Bar at The Mirage, and Diablo’s Cantina and the soon-to-open Brand Steakhouse at the Monte Carlo. The key to serving guests at such a variety of locations, he says, is understanding the target clientele for each project and giving the guests what they want.

What are the challenges of operating multiple restaurants?

You just need to sacrifice quality of life. You have to make sacrifices and be more organized, and you have to surround yourself with the right people. The people that you have around you are so crucial to the success of managing multiple units and multi-tasking. If you have to continually follow up with people, it’s a waste of your time. If you’re spending time doing that, you’re going to be neglecting the areas that need the attention.

BIOGRAPHY

Title: corporate executive chef-partner, The Light Group, Las VegasBirth date: Sept. 26, 1973Hometown: Rye, N.Y.Education: The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y.Career highlights: working in three-star Michelin restaurants; having opened every Las Vegas restaurant he’s ever worked in; being one of the seven people who can say they’ve opened a restaurant in the Bellagio

How do you find the right people?

Lately I would say trial and error, but I don’t think that’s very nice. It’s a feeling; it’s not just a résumé. You have to feel that you’re going to be able to manage that person and that the person is driven and wants to be part of the team. I’m very up-front when I interview. I tell people exactly how I operate and what my expectations are. I want to make sure everyone understands what they’re going to get and that it’s a good fit for them and a good fit for me.

What can you tell me about developing menus for your different concepts?

As far as menu development, you have to understand the demographics of where you’re at. The demographics of the Bellagio are going to be different than the Monte Carlo or the Mirage. They’re three different hotels and three different kinds of guests. You have to understand who your clientele is going to be and what that clientele wants.

How are the demographics different?

The Bellagio is the elite hotel in town; it’s the best of the best. Not to say that the other two don’t have as high expectations, but they cater to a different clientele. The biggest gamblers go to the Bellagio. The Monte Carlo is a more pedestrian-driven hotel, in a good sense. They get more foot traffic, more people walking by. You get all walks of life in the Monte Carlo, which is great for us; it really helps us with Diablo because we open up right to the street.

What are the different restaurants like?

The food at Diablo is familiar Mexican-American food. We weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, we were just trying to create a great experience in a great atmosphere where you go in, you party, you drink, you have empanadas. It’s great-quality food, but it’s familiar food.

CHEF’S TIPS

If you put gelatin in a liquid marinade for chicken, it intensifies the flavor and shortens the time necessary for the marinade.

Go to ethnic grocery stores and buy a bunch of different products, such as different kinds of chiles, and experiment with them.

At [Fix restaurant in the] Bellagio, which was our first restaurant, we geared everything towards American-style tapas.

At Fix or Stack, you can go in there and get a Kobe meatball pizza or smoked salmon with caviar, you can get spicy tuna on crispy rice with ginger-garlic ponzu. We’re all over the board. We’re doing that at Brand now.

At Fix we do a really traditional Alsatian tarte flambée, which is like a thin-crust pizza. We do a little shaved truffle with bacon and fromage blanc. It’s really ethnic, if you will, and really indigenous to Alsace. Then there’s spicy tuna on crispy rice. It’s meant to be geared towards everyone, so you can go in there and have something different every time and not feel like you’re eating Italian every night.

How does The Light Group approach sustainability?

As a company our philosophy is to go green, and I’d say we’re pretty close to operating in a green fashion. When it comes to sustainable seafood and making sure we’re friendly with all those practices, we definitely do that. We buy from reputable vendors that aren’t poaching animals or fishing almost extinct seafood. We operate to higher standards than most.

There’s so much conflicting information out there about what is and is not environmentally sound. How do you decide what rules to adhere to?

There are websites you can go on. There are a lot of news pieces, and we have chef meetings. The Bellagio is pretty driven that way as well. Everyone knows [Chilean] sea bass is becoming extinct, so you shouldn’t use sea bass. Whether that’s true or not, the conversation is always out there. A lot of things we do is source certain farms where you know they’re growing it themselves, as far as produce goes.

Do you use mostly farmed or wild seafood?

We’ll use some of both. The shrimp are farmed shrimp from Thailand. Salmon we’ll use wild when it’s in season.

Do you have any mentors?

Last time I said no and someone called me cocky. I used to, but my style of cooking has changed so much that it’s hard to find someone who does what I do who didn’t develop at the same time I did.

Now [the process] is more about traveling and going out to eat and talking to people and finding out what the trends are. So that’s really where I stand now.

How has your cooking style changed over your career?

I’ve gotten rid of the ego. I’m not really an ego cook like I used to be or like a lot of people are. I still want perfection, I still want attention to detail. But now it’s about developing cravings and trying to figure out what that umami flavor is going to be in a certain dish so people will want to come back and have that specific dish. Or would they think about going out and say, “I need to go out and have that mini lobster taco with mangoes and zesty oil over at Stack.”