PALMS CHEF NO STRANGER TO COMEBACKS
Longtime Palms Hotel Casino chef Barry Dakake is the definition of a survivor.
He’s weathered major medical crises, ownership changes and watched his once-dominant steakhouse fall out of favor.
Like a cat with nine lives, the former executive chef of N9NE Steakhouse is on the rebound again, thanks to the Fertitta brothers, Frank and Lorenzo.
Dakake, 48, said his faith, founded in New England, “just kept me going.”
When the Fertittas purchased the Palms two years ago and decided to transform N9NE into Scotch 80 Prime, they hired Dakake a year ago and told him his mission was to “make it the greatest steakhouse Vegas has seen in a long, long time.”
Two and half months since the debut, after a $620 million renovation of the Palms, Dakake firmly believes “as great as N9NE was, Scotch 80 is going to be the comeback story of the year.”
The Rhode Island native knows something about comebacks. In the mid-1990s, he overcame stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer that begins in the lymphatic system. Less than 10 years later he had a viral tumor in his spinal cord.
“I was paralyzed from the waist down in ’04 and ’06,” he said. “I was in Sunrise Hospital for seven weeks and they flew me down to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for eight weeks and they figured out what was wrong.”
During an interview this week, he shared his thoughts about how he ended up back at the Palms, the death of superchef Joel Robuchon, and why he’s boycotting Canada.
On the tense wait before learning he was the Fertitta’s choice to run Scotch 80 Prime:
“I didn’t really know where I stood but I knew I was a hard worker and hard work prevails and I had just as good a shot as anyone and being businessmen, in my mind, I thought these guys know what I brought to the table.”
What kind of a relationship did he have with the Fertitta brothers before the purchase?
“I had a relationship, a very small relationship, with the Fertittas, early on when the Maloofs owned the Palms, but I didn’t know much about them. I remember that when these brothers would come in and sit down with the Maloofs in the private dining room, they’d order big wine and fancy food and things like that. “
What kind of pressure was he feeling before being hired?
“I knew my chances were pretty good but when you are at the top of your game and then it gets really slow, as we did, it is very challenging and you have to dig deep and really be at the top of your game.”
Key supporters in his corner:
“Jon Gray (chuckle) really pulled for me and spoke very highly of me.” Gray had worked at the Palms and Caesars Entertainment’s The Linq promenade project before moving to Nike’s corporate office in Portland in late 2014. UFC president Dana White “really pushed for me, too. With him coming from Massachussetts and me from Rhode Island, we hit it off from Day One."
He credits his former wife, Denise, and the Maloof family with getting him through some dark days:
“She stood by my side, 1,000 percent. Couldn’t have done it without her. We’re no longer together but we’re still friends. There was no one better. Wonderful woman. And when I got sick again, George Maloof and the whole family, was there for me. George is like a brother to me. They always supported him. We still break bread to this day.”
On Scotch 80 Prime’s hot start, with 400 covers a night on Fridays and Saturdays:
“What I’m proudest about is how the team has been able to execute the menu. It was very rough at the beginning.We lost a lot of people when N9NE closed last year. You don’t expect them to wait 10 months for a new restaurant. I’m proud of the great food we serve here. Mr. (Frank) Fertitta said, “I want the best. I expect the best.” That challenged me. We have an awesome vegan menu. We got a great crew. Even though it’s my name on the menus, it’s my guys (making it happen.)”
On why he’s boycotting Canadian food product:
“I don’t purchase anything from Canada because they club seals. I don’t give them any business. If any oysters come in from Prince Edward Island in British Columbia I send them back. My fish purveyor understands my strong feelings on that.”
The best meal he ever had?
“Joel Robuchon’s at the MGM Mansion. In my 48 years of life, that was the greatest meal hands down. He was a perfectionist. It was as perfect a dinner as you could ever have.” Robuchon died Monday in Geneva at the age of 73. “I never met him,” said Dakake. “It’s a sad day.”