It is not every day that you have the opportunity to experience an international fusion of dishes from Japan, Brazil and Peru under one roof. But at SushiSamba in Las Vegas, it is a daily culinary attraction.
Since leaving what many call the food and wine mecca of the United States, New York City, Herb Wilson is feeling quite at home as the new executive chef for the bi-coastal restaurant group’s Las Vegas strip location housed inside the Palazzo Hotel and Resort Casino. With a culinary background that extends across many styles of cuisine, it was the need for a change of pace as well as the long creative slope that ultimately landed him in the rivaling U.S. city.
Travel’s Influence on Food
Born and raised in New York, Wilson first started cooking with his brother while their parents worked. Deciding to pursue cooking as a career, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and shortly after began working with the late, great chef, Patrick Clark. “Amazing, amazing guy,” he says, recalling their time spent together at Tavern on the Green.
Following the death of his grandparents in the same year, Wilson decided that there was no time like the present to follow his dreams and go overseas to France and work. For just under a year, he worked in the kitchens of Gerard Pangaud and Les Frères Troisgros and when he returned to the states says, “I came back with more respect and reverence and honor for food, just the way it was packaged and handled. This was before the whole culinary revolution had hit the United States.”
Seeing food start to play a different role in the lives of Americans is an exciting piece of culinary history that not every chef can talk about during his career. “Food has taken tremendous leaps and bounds in our culture in America. Twenty years ago, you couldn’t see fresh herbs, but now you go into the supermarkets and you see 20 different types of fish, mesclun salads, balsamic vinegars and shiitake mushrooms,” says Wilson. “I think Americans have really embraced food and it’s partly because of travel.”
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Wilson continued to establish himself in some of New York’s most highly regarded kitchens. Eventually, he opened a restaurant of his own called Bambou, a Caribbean concept that celebrated his multicultural heritage. The restaurant won the attention of national press and garnered TV appearances on shows such as “Good Morning America” and “New York Metro Eats.” Food & Wine magazine raved about Wilson’s crab cakes and posted the recipe online for others to try and recreate.
Maintain the Brand’s Integrity
After closing the restaurant and a few more stints in New York, he accepted the position with SushiSamba last year and has been enjoying the next chapter of his culinary career, including the hot Las Vegas weather.
SushiSamba is not your typical restaurant as it intentionally fuses the flavors, ingredients and styles of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisines into a small plate concept. One look at the menu and you can order anything from Japanese vegetables, yellowtail ceviche, Peruvian Bay lobsters or indulge in the churrasco or Brazilian barbecue.
“I try to use seasonal ingredients and stay within the realm of the concept,” says Wilson when asked what type of approach he takes when creating the restaurant’s signature dishes. Because the concept is so unique, he acknowledges that there really isn’t another restaurant model to follow. He says the best way to make sure the cuisines are appropriately represented is to learn the cultural background of each in terms of ingredients and then begin adding his own influences to create the dishes guests have come to know and enjoy. He notes that his number one focus at the moment is “maintaining our costs and the consistency of the brand I inherited.”
“I am really enjoying my time here,” Wilson shares about his overall transition and as his work schedule continues to balance out and he settles more into his role, I have a feeling that Las Vegas will be Wilson’s home for years to come.