LA-based chef Bruce Kalman has been dipping his toes into Las Vegas’ culinary scene. If not for the current pandemic, local foodies would surely be flocking to his restaurant, which would have been open by now and declared the newest dining-scene darling.
In culinary circles, Kalman is best known for the acclaimed Union in Pasadena, California, and Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market in LA’s Grand Central Market. He’s also done his share of television competitions, winning on Chopped, Knife Fight and Beat Bobby Flay, and he finished in the top 5 on Season 15 of Top Chef. Oh, and there’s that Rising Star Chef award from the James Beard Foundation.
For now, the chef is whetting our appetite with a cook-at-home series through Secret Burger (secretburger.com), which kicked off August 12 with a make-your-own mozzarella workshop and pickled giardiniere. (The versatile chef, who specializes in Italian cuisine, also owns an artisanal pickle company, BK Brinery, which supplies restaurants across the country).
Kalman, who moved to Las Vegas in February, is discovering a secret locals have been harboring for a while—that the culinary scene here is an all-points experience, not just on the Strip.
“I think there’s a lot of culture here. And the interesting thing is, I’ve come here many times and didn’t realize what was going on aside from the Strip too much,” he says. “When I did, that’s kind of what sold me, honestly, seeing what’s off-Strip and seeing the communities and the restaurants. There’s some great food and amazing chefs, everybody’s passionate and very close-knit, which is nice.”
In fact, it was another local chef—Esther’s James Trees—who convinced Kalman to move here. The two collaborated on a pop-up dinner at Trees’ Tivoli Village restaurant Ada’s back in February, and a future collaboration is likely ahead.
As for his plans in Las Vegas, Kalman already has a concept in mind: barbecue. “I started helping Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters with his barbecue,” Kalman says. “He does it for charity and for fun. So I started helping him, and I just got hooked on it. And you know for me, food is food, right? It’s just different ingredients, slightly different preparations, but the same amount of care and passion should go into all of it. For me, anything that’s soulful, I’m down, [whether it’s] barbecue or Italian food.”
Kalman’s love of smoked meats doesn’t adhere to one particular style. He likes a Texas-style salt-and-pepper rub on briskets and beef ribs, and pulled pork served with Carolina barbecue sauce. “I’m not saying it’s strict this or strict that, because I’m a creative chef,” he says. “I’ll also probably have chipotle chicken drums and hot links, and we’re making some mac and cheese and baked beans and coleslaw—all the usual suspects.”
Those lucky enough to snag dinner kits from his Secret Burger event this past weekend got a sneak peek at Kalman’s barbecue acumen, and there are still two events left this month: the family-friendly Pepperoni and Lasagna Cups on August 23, and a pasta class on August 26, in which the chef guides diners in preparing a three-course meal of stone fruit and burrata salad, ricotta cavatelli alla vodka, and Meyer lemon and bay leaf panna cotta.
The cooking series is Kalman’s way of not just getting to know his new community, but also passing along his passions to those who might need inspiration at home. “That’s kind of my mission, to really just show people how easy it is to do,” he says. “Once you have the understanding of the basics, then like anything else, it’s just practice.”