A Few Words (and a Special Meal) with Jean Joho

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When a chef as acclaimed as Jean Joho comes to town to visit his restaurants, ELV is there faster than you can say crèpes fourrées aux oeufs brouillés au Parmesan.

It’s always fun to bask in their aura, eat a special menu, overseen by them (with matching wines, of course – one of the perks of our job), and get a chance to hobnob with one of the giants in the field. So that’s just what we did at Eiffel Tower Restaurant two weeks ago when the master was in town. For those who aren’t familiar with the Chicago dining scene, Joho’s Everest has been one of the highest (and highest rated) restaurants in town since (Everest sits on the 40th floor of the LaSalle Building). He was also the “other” chef behind Mon Ami Gabi (i.e., “My Friend Gabi” refers to Jean Joho’s friend Chef Gabino Sotelino) and has a string of Brasserie JOs throughout the Lettuce Entertain You empire.

Once the hubub of our superb, seven course meal subsided, and plates were being cleared, we sidled up to Le Grand Alsatian and asked him a few questions:

Eating Las Vegas (getting right to the point): Is fine dining dead?

Jean Joho: Luxury dining will never go away just like luxury products like Vuitton, Chanel and Cartier will always have a market. It never has appealed to the largest segment of society, but there are still many people in the world who want to be taken care of (pampered) when they dine out.

ELV: Well, it certainly seems to have had a dent put into it in Vegas…

JJ: From the standpoint of our restaurants (Mon Ami Gabi and Eiffel Tower Restaurant), there has been no recession in Nevada. Getting customers has been harder in Chicago than in Las Vegas. Chicago has 10% unemployment, but even with our loyal customer base, we have had to learn to be more flexible with our menus…but overall, we’ve been very happy with with our Las Vegas restaurants over the past few years.

ELV: Maybe one of the reasons your places do so well here is the beautiful fountains of the Bellagio. Have you ever thought that you should pay them something for providing your customers with that fabulous view?

JJ (smiling): I think they should pay us (the Paris Hotel) for the the great view we provide them! (A little more seriously): As nice as the view is, in the end all it is is an accessory to the food and service.

ELV: Speaking of food, what’s the main difference between what you cook in Chicago (at Everest) and the menu at Eiffel Tower?

JJ: In Chicago we let ourselves be more creative; here we strive for a more classic French cuisine.

ELV: If you haven’t felt much of the effects of the recession, how have you been able to avoid the cutbacks that the rest of our town has seen?

JJ: We don’t consider ourselves a tourist attraction. Other places in town might look to pleasing the tourist first. We take our food and service very seriously and have faith that the customers will come. And a chef must be behind his restaurant. If a chef is not behind (in) his restaurant, you (he) will fail. I don’t feel like I have to be here (in my restaurant), I like to be here. Every time I come I enjoy myself and enjoy making menu changes.

ELV: I have often said that French-trained chefs seem superior to American-trained ones…

JJ: American chefs need some French training to reach their full potential. In this country they want to go too fast.

ELV: So what one piece of advice would you give chefs (young or old) that they could use to improve themselves and their restaurants?

JJ: A chef needs to constantly eat and taste his own food. It is remarkable how many chefs get so caught up in turning out their food that they never take the time to actually taste it. (ELV note: It is equally remarkable how many world-class chefs have said the same thing to us over the years.)

One thing we can guarantee Joho did taste was his filet of sea bass atop smoked tomato quinoa in a brown butter broth (a superb use of this grain). We’re equally sure he personally approved the flavors behind the coriander crusted sea scallop, and the toasted Colorado rack of lamb with tarragon jus — that actually tasted like lamb…and not some denuded, medium rare meat of unknown species.

The wines were the usual swill ELV endures at these things: Nicolas Feuillatte Brut, Domaine Weinbach, Grand Cru Schlossberg, Cuvee Ste. Catherine “L’Inedit” (2005), Joseph Drouhin Grand Cru Chablis – Vaudesir (2007), M.Chapoutier, La Petite Ruche (2008), Lalande-Pomerol Chateau la Fleur de Bouard (2003)…but somehow, we suffered though.


In the Paris Hotel and Casino

3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109