SERRANO, MOONEN & MAULER CAPTIVATE FOODIES DURING “CONVERSATIONS”
We had breaking news during Sunday’s “Conversation with Norm.” Longtime Las Vegas chef Gustav Mauler announced he was retired as of Sunday, ending a career that included a two-year stint with Donald Trump and two runs with Steve Wynn.
Mauler received a long ovation from a large crowd, including many chefs, at Myron’s Place at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Mauler was executive chef for Wynn at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City in 1980 and was recruited by Trump to Trump Castle in 1985. Wynn, who rarely rehires an executive who leaves his company, brought Mauler back to develop his kitchens at the Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio.
A native of Austria, Mauler said Spiedini Ristorante will continue in operation at the Marriott Las Vegas. Marriott has purchased it and the staff will remain intact at Spiedini, opened by Mauler 20 years ago.
Mauler was among the three panelists who revisited their chef journeys.
Julian Serrano, one of the most decorated chefs in Las Vegas history, and Rick Moonen, known as the “Godfather of Seafood Sustainability,” shared their best stories as well in front of a lively crowd of foodies.
Serrano, who grew up in Madrid, talked about a heart scare in his mid-teens that ended his promising soccer career and led to stardom in another arena.
He ran into a friend who was attending a chef school in Marbella, Spain, was intrigued with what he heard, and against his mother’s wishes, enrolled in the school and went on to become No. 1 in his class. After a series of chef stops, he arrived in San Francisco, where his career exploded at Masa. He was recruited by Wynn to be executive chef at Picasso, when Bellagio opened in 1998. He quickly won Mobil’s five-star rating twice along with best chef in the Southwest in the James Beard competition and best new restaurant, also in James Beard competition. He has since added to his glittering empire by opening Julian Serrrano Tapas at Aria and Lago at Bellagio.
He told the audience the move to Las Vegas was the best decision in his life.
Serrano was also honored as best Spanish chef outside Spain by Spain’s government. Steve and Elaine Wynn accompanied him on that trip. Serrano recalled Steve Wynn, an ardent art lover, wanted to include a tour of the Prado, Spain’s national museum in Madrid. However, when they arrived, the museum was closed. The government quickly made arrangements to give the Wynns and Serrano and his daughter, Stefania, a private tour.
Moonen, who had the rare distinction of winning three stars at two separate restaurants in New York City, talked about his rise from Queens, N.Y. Among the way he befriended Charlie Palmer, still a close friend, and the late Jean-Louis Palladin. The latter was one of the greatest influences in Moonen’s life, he said. Palladin, a legend at Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., later moved to the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas in the 1990s.
Moonen recounted one of the most somber days of his life. He was on an overnight fishing trip off Sandy Hook, N.J. on his 45th birthday. He caught two 35 pound tuna and on the way back to the dock, the twin tower terrorist attacks unfolded.
“We could see the smoke,” said Moonen. He and some fellow chefs turned the tuna haul in to more than 1,000 tuna sandwiches and had them delivered to Ground Zero.
Mauler told the audience an anecdote about his early chef days. He was serving his mandatory military stint when word circulated around the base about his kitchen prowess. Soon he was doing private dinners for the commanding officer of the base, who had Mauler prepare dinners for 30 officers and their wives at the general’s home.
He was working on the base in 1968 when the Soviet Union invaded Austria’s neighbor, Czech Republic. It was a sobering day, he said, when live ammunition was passed out.