When you first meet Chef Nicole Brisson, you’d never guess she is responsible for the best steak in Las Vegas, and perhaps the best steak on the West Coast. In the male-dominated steak world, it can be really hard to envision her handling large cuts of meat in Carnevino’s off-site aging facility, but that is exactly what she does – and it has made her a legend in the culinary community. This reputation has recently earned her the position of Culinary Director of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s four Las Vegas Restaurants.
Chef Brisson has worked for Batali and Bastianich since 2007, and became much-loved leader of Carnevino in 2010, where their amazing porterhouses and ribeyes have become the envy of almost every steakhouse in America.
LeAnne Notabartolo of Good For Spooning said of Chef Brisson that she “is a culinary badass. In addition to cooking and recipe development, menu creation and running a full back of the house staff, she oversees a dynamic meat program including charcuterie and dry aging and works with the best meat producers in the country to create a one of a kind dining experience.”
Anyone who knows steak, knows that they should try Carnevino for at least once in their life – and while Batali and Bastianich (B&B) are behind the genius of Carnevino, Chef Brisson has been the third “B” bringing their vision to life for almost a decade.
Chef Brisson took a little bit of time off while she got settled down with her new position, and we asked her a few questions about the industry and where it is going. Enjoy!
What does the Culinary Director position mean? Will you still be spending time in the kitchen?
The Culinary Director oversees all four Batali properties. I will be tasting and developing menus with the chefs and covering the line when need be but will be in the kitchen less than before. It will keeping constant communication between New York and Vegas. This is going to be very different for me but a learning experience and a lot of fun. I have a great team of chefs and I’m confident we can continue to focus on great food and educating the FOH/BOH staff as well.
What ingredients go into a perfectly dry aged steak? Where do some restaurants cut corners?
There are no actual ingredients in the dry aging process. We keep our room at 38-40 degrees, have constant air flow and about 85 percent humidity. When the steaks are cooked, they are just seasoned with kosher salt, swabbed with fresh rosemary, garlic and EVOO. When you start out with a great product, there is no need to add a lot of other ingredients. If I didn’t have Mario and Joe behind the program, we would never be able to have the quality we have. You’re sitting on an enormous amount of product for three months before your even able to make money on it. Not only do you have to factor in the labor but also that we’re losing 25 to 30 percent of unusable waste on each Ribeye or Shortloin.
You mentioned that you will still be overseeing the off strip aging facility. What have you enjoyed about being that involved in the selection and aging process of the cuts of beef?
I have always enjoyed the entire process at offsite. It is an incredibly primal feeling. It reminds me of chopping wood as a kid it’s almost therapeutic in a way. All you are thinking about is the meat, weighing, tagging and rotating and of course selecting riservas. I also enjoy the fact either Chef Jon Littleton or I have physically touched every piece of meat that has been served at Carnevino. You know the quality of the product and are completely invested into the program. I don’t know many chefs who can actually say that.
Why do you think that Batali and Bastianich support their chef’s quality food while some establishments have to cut quality to make more money?
I would of never stayed in Vegas if it weren’t for Mario and Joe using the quality ingredients they do in their restaurants. Some people get into this business solely to make money and some of us are here because we have endless passion for food and cooking.
Las Vegas has a lot of hotels with people who need to make certain percentages that can sometimes make chefs or restaurants cut quality on certain products. We are independently owned which gives us the freedom to keep quality and consistency.
What is one dish that you made at CarneVino that you consider “your own” and your most proud of.
We constantly are changing the menus based on seasonality. One of my most recent spring items at Carnevino I am proud of is the dungeness crab crespelle. We are buying the crab from the Smolen Brothers. The crab itself is so sweet and delicious and pairs very well with the asparagus.
Where is Italian going now? What are trends that will be big in 2016-17? Anything that your going to be introducing that we should look forward to?
I think people are recognizing traditional Italian food now because of chefs like Mario. When I got diagnosed with Hashimotos and latter with celiac, it has really changed Italian food for me personally.
The more all these autoimmune diseases keep surfacing, I think the days of bottomless pasta dishes will diminish. Even this year at Cibus in Italy, you see a lot more gluten-free products. So many chefs dismiss the seriousness until you or a loved suffer from a chronic illnesss and see the pain it can cause. The chefs and I are already working on summer menus to be released the end of June. Chef Brett Uniss at B&B Ristorante has a great palate and we will continue to bring in whole pigs, lambs and cows and change the regional menus.
What would your last meal be if you could eat anywhere, and eat anything?
Everything at Raku! The tofu, the bonito guts, any of the sashimi, the ice fish, the silver skin, skewered intestine. If you can’t tell already I eat there as much as I can.