A Q&A with Elizabeth Blau: One of Las Vegas’ Most Respected Culinary Visionaries
By Robert Barnes
Elizabeth Blau began her career with famed restaurateur Sirio Maccioni. Widely credited with transforming Las Vegas into a world-class culinary destination, she was instrumental in building the gourmet repertoire at several MGM Mirage properties, at Wynn Las Vegas and at the Palms with celebrity chef Kerry Simon.
Blau is considered the culinary queen of Las Vegas – and rightly so. Her accolades include I Have a Dream Foundation’s Dream Builder of the Year 2009, the 2013 UNLVino Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence, Nevada Restaurant Association’s 2014 Humanitarian of the Year and 2014 Dame de L’anne by the Maitres Cuisinier de France.
In 2012, she and her husband Kim Canteenwalla teamed up to open their own restaurant, Honey Salt, and followed with Buddy V’s, Made LV and Andiron Steak & Sea. She eventually became a 2015 nominee for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur.
It was indeed an honor to sit down with Blau to learn about the path that led her to shape the culinary landscape of Las Vegas.
You grew up in Connecticut, so you had an East Coast upbringing. What led you to move to Las Vegas?
While working for Sirio Maccioni, I negotiated a deal for Le Cirque and Circo at the Bellagio. I was supposed to spend six months in Las Vegas, but Steve Wynn stole me away. That was 18 years ago, and I’ve created a home life that includes hiking at Red Rock and Mt. Charleston. While it’s not like New England, I like the desert and the weather. The sun is almost always shining and that puts me in a good mood.
How did you get into the restaurant business?
The good old fashioned way…When I was 16, I was the taco girl at Pancho McGee’s in Hartford, making tacos, chimichangas and quesadillas. Then I had a lot of jobs in the industry while attending college at Georgetown University.
How did you and your husband Kim Canteenwalla meet?
When Wynn sent me to Mississippi to work on opening the Beau Rivage, we were looking for an executive chef – and we hired Kim. We worked together and got to know each other over time. I found he was a terrific person with a big heart and has traveled all over the world. We’ve been together for 17 years and will have been married for 12 years in June.
You had a hand in designing several restaurants. Do you have any favorites?
They’re all special, but Simon was the first restaurant I did on my own with Kerry Simon and Peter Morton, so it was my baby. Honey Salt will always be special because it was the first Kim and I did together. It’s modeled after how we entertain at home with family favorites, so it’s very personal.
What led you and your partners to open and design your own restaurants?
I had been working on the consulting side for a long time. So I thought it would be nice to have fun, casual places to hang out at reflecting our personality, where you can dress up or not, and the menu can be casual or upscale.
You currently have four restaurants that you own or have a collaboration with: Honey Salt, Buddy V’s, Made LV and Andiron Steak & Sea. What are your favorite aspects of each?
I love the comfortable design of Honey Salt, and it has a lot of personal touches. The women’s restroom is decorated with key cards from hotels all over the world and the men’s room has my own baseball card collection. The menu is a little eclectic and balances Kim’s love of bold flavors and comfort favorites with my healthier preferences and sweet tooth.
Buddy V’s is a fun place; it has nice views of the Strip, and the open kitchen and signature cake display give an amazing energy to the room. The food is so comforting, and the desserts are always great.
Made LV is playful and casual and all about locals. It’s the type of place you can come in and hang out, and enjoy a great happy hour. You can also play a video game or board game, watch games on TV, and there’s a fire pit and three outdoor patios. The food is simple but high quality, and you can enjoy scratch-made versions of some of our bar food favorites – as well as a great cocktail and beer list.
Andiron is a stunning room, so bright and full of light and volume. It was inspired by barbecuing at the beach, and we use an apricot-wood-burning grill for all of our steaks. The menu balances some of those classic steakhouse staples with lighter options, great seafood and even a few vegetarian dishes.
I remember your son Cole helped design the children’s menu at Honey Salt. Has he had any other input to your restaurant’s menus?
Some of the items Cole inspired are the Salt & Vinegar Wings at Made LV, because he loves salt & vinegar chips; and the Waffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Crème Brulee Donuts at Andiron because they are all things he enjoys.
Other than Buddy V’s at The Venetian and Simon at the Palms, your other three restaurants are in the Summerlin area. Is that intentional?
We live up here and are familiar with the area and the neighborhoods, so were able to recognize real estate opportunities as they became available.
Do you and Kim still find time to cook and entertain guests at home?
Not as often as we’d like. We love Sunday barbeques and entertaining on holidays, though.
What trends in dining do you see in the future for Las Vegas?
More high-quality, casual, off-Strip neighborhood restaurants.
What’s next on the horizon?
We have our hands full with our four restaurants, but plans are in the works to open a couple new Buddy V’s in other cities and a Honey Salt in Kim’s native Canada.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I’m a beer drinker. My favorite go-to beers are Stella and Peroni.
Photo courtesy Bill Milne