Community The Las Vegas Chronicles: Soul food at Mandalay Bay

    The Las Vegas Chronicles: Soul food at Mandalay Bay

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    Johnny Church is from Michigan and both of his arms are covered in tattoos. The executive chef of Aureole was hand-picked by Charlie Palmer to run the gourmet restaurant, located in Mandalay Bay. On October 1, during the shooting, Church’s restaurant was closed, but he opened the very next day and worked in tangent with other Vegas chefs to feed first responders and people in need.

    “We’re hospitality people, that’s what we do,” says Church, who talked to us about his restaurant beneath a 3,000 bottle wine cellar, in which waiters use a harness to retrieve chardonnays.

    Tell us about your restaurant and approach to food.

    It’s a classic Charlie Palmer restaurant, it originated in New York City and opened here in Mandalay Bay 15 years ago. We’re currently 11 months into a revamp.

    Lots of people in town this weekend are here for the race. I think runners would be pleased to know how locally you can eat in Las Vegas.

    We focus on the freshest food, as local as possible. Here in Vegas there are local farms, and we source many things from Blue Lizard Farms, which is 150 miles north of us and plus, right in our backyard is Southern California, and that’s where we pull a lot of products. It’s very important to us to serve the freshest, most local food.

    What brought you to Las Vegas? 

    I was in San Diego and worked there, but I came out to Vegas 25 years ago and something about it just appeals to me. I’ve gotten off the Strip, I opened MTO Cafe, and I’ve worked for Gordon Ramsey, but Charlie is really the one who gave me my shot. He’s family.

    Can you talk a little bit about what happened here and about that night?

    Well, we’re closed on Sunday so I wasn’t at the restaurant at that time, but we opened the very next day.

    Was the restaurant crowded? 

    It wasn’t crowded but there were definitely people. I think it’s important that life has to go on and we lost a few bookings, a party of 150 for that night and another 200 the next, but you’d be amazed at how quickly we got back up and running. I was proud of our team.

    What did you folks do to pinch in?

    I had bunch of local writers with me and we went out and were getting the first responders food. It wasn’t much, but we were there—anything we could do locally, we all did. We just did intuitively, there wasn’t any message going out. We just helped facilitate food to people and set up food trucks and what was really cool was that it wasn’t just me, just us, it was all the chefs in town.

    Las Vegas can seem transient, people coming and going, but talk about the sense of community here, that sense of pride.

    Pride is a great word for it. It sucks that something like that has to happen for everyone to come together but it happened in a moment, in an instant, as an instinct. Look, I always thought Michigan was my home, but Vegas is truly my home. This is my kind of town and I’m proud to call Las Vegas home.