Tenderness on a Plate

Before arriving on the supersized Las Vegas scene with his first restaurant in the United States, Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s talents as a culinary artist had been showcased at 12 restaurants around the world, including in London, Paris, Berlin, Dubai, Moscow, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Gagnaire is hailed as the father of molecular gastronomy, creating dishes with such bold brushstrokes of flavor that they defy conventional wisdom. And yet there is a simplicity that underlies the philosophy of his cuisine: food for the sake of letting seasonal ingredients shine.

Chef Pierre Gagnaire is very much at home when he is in Las Vegas and is inspired by the uniqueness of the surroundings and everything the city has to offer. He might take in a show, dinner at Jean-Georges Steakhouse, or a little sun poolside. He understands the restaurant and culinary landscape—and Twist by Pierre Gagnaire at the Mandarin Oriental is the interpretation and expression of his vision.

“I wanted to open a restaurant in America, but I knew from the beginning that Las Vegas was not a typical city. I wondered what people would expect if I came here,” says Gagnaire. “I know here I am not the star. The star is the theatrical shows, the constellation of restaurants, the sporting events, because this is the only place in the world where pleasure is actually the business and function of a city. We are just a very small part of that; but when you understand your place, it allows you to tell your story, which we do here with our own twist on Las Vegas.” And for Gagnaire, that twist is tenderness.

“My mission—not just here but around the world—is to put tenderness on the plate. It’s not a word you usually associate with a place like Las Vegas, but we try. I am constantly impressed by the quality of food here, the quality of service, and the product. Our compassion and tenderness is what sets Twist apart from the rest.”

Gagnaire is no stranger to turning things upside down. It’s how he got his start in France, rebelling against traditional cooking methods with experimentation. Working with new ingredients, techniques, and combinations of flavors and textures established him as a global talent, and his restaurants have the Michelin stars to prove it. In 2000, he began working with French chemist Hervé This, and this added dimension to his cooking propelled him to international acclaim for his and This’s work together in the kitchen. It is perhaps the best place to start when extracting tenderness that is the exact chemistry of the chef ’s heart and soul.

“Twist” also refers to the dance craze that shaped Gagnaire’s youth. “It was my passion, my American dream, pulled from the music, the movies, and the rest.” And so when he finally made the move to the United States, it made sense to put all these stories into his dishes. Elegant in theory but grounded in history is his story, where food takes on a life of its own because it’s infused with feeling and honesty. “Sure, we want to create a nice place with the lights and the view, but with the food we try to honestly convey my spirit—and also the spirit of the city.”

Poet, scientist, chef, and conductor, Gagnaire finds inspiration in his work and his focus is always on the task at hand: “My inspiration is to be attentive to my sensibilities, to take time for silence, and to be considerate. It is a mix of reflection and work with the team in the kitchen. In the end, it really is impossible to explain.”

Chef Gagnaire relies on his staff at Twist, helmed by Chef de Cuisine Ryuki Kawasaki, who has worked at Gagnaire’s restaurant Sketch, in London, as well as a long list of other Michelin-starred kitchens in Europe and Japan. “We have been together eight years now. He knows the market; he knows what to buy seasonally. We talk, we Skype, we email—we have a lot of conversations.”

Gagnaire was drawn to the Mandarin Oriental for several reasons, not the least of which was his long-standing relationship with the group, beginning at his restaurant in Hong Kong. “Because this hotel in Las Vegas is small and intimate, I know everyone here and can rely on their attention to detail and perfection in execution. It’s the same in the kitchen—they are family to me, and I believe this is key for success: the quality of the team. I am lucky in terms of being healthy and loving what I do. I truly enjoy living in the kitchen, where I can observe each person’s skill level. When I am here, I show the staff new things, I explain what I want, I make adjustments—all this in the kitchen, not in the office.”

In a city that rings in big volume with little discrimination, Gagnaire believes the Mandarin Oriental’s level of excellence is responsible for the discerning nature of the clientele who dine a Twist. “The guests here are not typical of the city. They come from around the world because of the hotel. And they appreciate good food.” With that in mind, Gagnaire takes care to prepare a show for them daily. “When you have a balance between taste, the visual attention to detail, and the sounds and smells, it is a show. The show is on the plate.”

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