Michael Mina: A True Culinary Wizard

The celebrity chef on working, dining and playing in Las Vegas

Michael Mina’s passion for cooking is evident in his long list of accolades, from the Rising Star Chef of the Year award he earned in 1997 to inclusion in the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who in Food & Beverage” in 2013 (with numerous Michelin stars along the way). The visionary chef founded his company, Mina Group, with partner Andre Agassi in 2002, and has opened 26 concepts since. He operates four restaurants in Las Vegas: Michael Mina at Bellagio, Stripsteak and Mandalay Bay, Pub 1842 at MGM Grand and his newest, BARDOT Brasserie, which opened at Aria last month.

What are your first memories of cooking? What drew you to it? 

I come from a Middle Eastern family, where I can remember spending many hours around the table enjoying meals as a group. I think the overall memory of that through my childhood influenced my decision to become a chef. I crave that ability to help others create lasting memories together.

When did you realize this is something you wanted to pursue as a career?

I had my first job in a restaurant as a teenager, I knew immediately this was the path for me.

Competition is so fierce in Las Vegas. How do you stay ahead of your competitors?

The restaurant scene in Vegas is continuously evolving, expanding and improving. The nature of the city forces us to always be on our toes to stay relevant, all while staying true to our philosophy of bold-yet-balanced flavors.

Valentine's Day and French cuisine go hand-in-hand. What are your menu selections for an unforgettable romantic meal?

The restaurant itself is incredibly sexy, so you’re already off to a great start at BARDOT. I’d start with something luxurious like our foie gras parfait with port wine gelée or chilled shellfish. Then definitely one of our plats pour deux—sharing dinner always lends itself to a more intimate experience. The lobster thermador is a favorite, and don’t leave without splitting one of our giant chocolate macarons!

Why did you decide to replace American Fish (BARDOT’s predecessor) with BARDOT Brasserie?

I was given the opportunity to rebrand American Fish and although the restaurant was amazing and beloved by many, I felt this was the perfect time to develop a French concept. Having been classically trained, it’s been exciting to jump back in and relearn all of the French technique.

What is one thing you cannot be without in the kitchen?

A microplane, hands down. It’s one of my go-to tools that I constantly find new uses for, with all types of ingredients.  It’s great for zesting fruit, grating cheese and even grating spices like nutmeg.  

What was the best advice you ever received?

When you think you have things figured out, chances are someone is right behind you and has things figured out even more. You have to be relentless in your pursuit.

What do you like most about cooking? What are your favorite things to cook?

I love the social aspect of food and how your cooking can bring people together. I love cooking anything as long as I’m with friends and family.

Your restaurants can be found in so many different markets. How would you characterize the Las Vegas dining scene? What do you like best about it?

Vegas is unlike any other place in the country. There is an unbelievable concentration of world-renowned chefs and an array of options that allows people to have a variety of dining experiences. There is something to fit everyone’s needs.

How often are you typically in Las Vegas? When you visit, what do you like to do to relax?

I’m in Las Vegas probably once a month. I’m really looking forward to coming back in April for Bon Appétit Uncork’d. I’m not sure I ever relax in Vegas, but I love to end the night at the Petrossian Lounge at Bellagio. It’s a great place to unwind. I also really enjoy catching up with other chef friends in town, Vegas is a meeting place for a lot of us. 

What restaurants do you like to visit when you're in Las Vegas? What restaurants here have you visited most recently?

I recently had an amazing meal at Bazaar Meat. José Andrés always knocks it out of the park. RAKU (off the Strip) is another favorite. I love visiting Scott Conant at Scarpetta [inside Cosmopolitan] whenever I get a chance too.

What are your favorite travel destinations?

I love visiting Hawaii, a close second is Japan. I’m happy anywhere on or near the water, with my family.

What's your favorite guilty indulgence?

Late-night snacks.

What are you working on next?

BARDOT is capping off an incredible time for the Mina Group. Over the past 11 months, we’ve opened Bourbon Steak Los Angeles, Pabu and The Ramen Bar, Bourbon Pub [in San Francisco] and Michael Mina’s Tailgate at Levi’s Stadium, Stripsteak Miami, Locale Market and Farmtable Kitchen in St. Petersburg, Florida. I’m looking forward to refocusing our efforts and fine-tuning guest experiences in all 26 operations across the U.S. And maybe a vacation.

Jennifer McKee
About the author

Jennifer is the Managing Editor of Morris Visitor Publications, where she has worked since 2005. She grew up in small...