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Bistro Bows In

Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

(continued from page 5)

 

THE CHEF

In search of a chef, Aziz and Mina hold a series of tastings. Brian Konopka, the executive chef at Le Cirque in Las Vegas, poaches a lobster for them alongside potato gnocchi and sautÈed quail egg. He concocts a Wellington of foie gras and wild mushrooms. He braises veal shank with veal cheek risotto. "We were astounded," Aziz says.

In late April, they decide to offer Konopka the position. But before they do, another chef calls. "A three-star chef, who works for a total superstar in New York but wants to move to Las Vegas," Aziz says. "He's heard we're putting together a team for Nob Hill, and he wants to do a tasting. I haven't worked with him but I've tried his food many, many times." The chef is Francis Raynard, Daniel Boulud's lieutenant at Restaurant Daniel. His rÈsumÈ is so good that Aziz decides to give him a chance.

Raynard flies to Las Vegas to cook a meal. The five-course presentation is masterful, starting with a salad of crunchy vegetables and langoustines and culminating in grilled squab with sautÈed chanterelles. "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant," Aziz says. "The consistency of the sauces, the intensity of the flavors. His ability to do something simple, like a vegetable salad, and have it talked about all lunch long. Everything he did showed a very confident hand."

Now they have a dilemma. "This project has Michael's style, his thinking and his food written all over it," Aziz says. "He has ideas that are entirely his, and he wants the execution to be a certain way. Francis has been the rising star who is now looking for stability. Brian still wants to make a name for himself." Aziz offers Raynard the job. He mollifies Konopka by assuring him that he's high on the list for future MGM projects.

As soon as Raynard returns from an Italian trip, Mina plans to sit down with him and go over the menu, which is taking shape. Half the appetizers offered will be for the table, Mina has decided. The tasting menu will be San Francisco-driven, with witty variations on some of the San Francisco classics. "Once Francis gets a feel for the style, he'll start putting in dishes," Mina says. He has already done a sea bass in salt crust that Mina likes so much, he wants it on the menu.

Then the unexpected happens. Raynard decides not to come. He leaves Mina a message saying that he's sorry, but he can't move to Las Vegas after all. Attempts to contact him prove futile, and then Mina stops trying. He has his own problems now. Six weeks before the scheduled opening, he has no chef.

That's when he makes a fundamental decision. Although he has a new baby at home, he decides that he'll live in a suite at the hotel and cook at Nob Hill himself for at least a few months. Rather than find someone willing to execute a Mina concept, the MGM will get Mina. For Nob Hill, it's a turning point.


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