“The passion is to make a difference,” says Klein. “The menu expresses who I am, where I come from.”
The other is his dedication to simplicity.
“I think everybody gets crazy sometimes and tries to do too much,” says Klein. “I think that ‘simple’ is the most beautiful thing.”
Simplicity, however, is a term rarely associated with Las Vegas. From ostentatious dining presentation—Mandalay Bay’s Fleur de Lys features 30-foot walls accented with thousands of fresh-cut roses that must be refreshed every few days—to one-upmanship nightlife—ghostbar’s 55-story-high nightclub with glass-bottomed patios comes to mind—Vegas practically decimates the notion of simplicity.
Klein is doing his part to maintain the increasingly lost art of subtlety and purity in Sin City. He was handpicked by Steve Wynn to head the casino mogul’s signature steakhouse, SW, within his lavish new Vegas resort, the eponymous Wynn Las Vegas. The former executive chef of Beverly Hills’ Maple Drive and former sous chef of Spago (also in the Hills), Klein was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs of 2004.”
Despite his acclaim, Klein remains a hands-on leader in the SW kitchen, infusing his cooks with the same passion he holds for culinary refinement.
“Many chefs are business chefs,” Klein says. “There’s nothing wrong with that—business is an important part of a restaurant. But leadership is very important in the kitchen.”
Hailing from the Alsace region of France, Klein developed a love for the basic elements of food early on. He recognizes the universality of simplicity, and the importance that his creations serve in communicating that adherence to elementariness.
“Simplicity, everybody understands—” says Klein, “staying true to the elements, like a tomato, a truffle or a piece of meat. What is old is always new for me. I believe in classic elements.”
Though he is a creator of acclaimed cuisine, his concern is with the honesty and simplicity of the dishes his kitchen creates.
“I have to be very true to myself,” Klein says. “The most important thing is to make sure people get it.”
Of course, “the people” are the reason for Klein’s success. It is something the chef recognizes—those who savor his cuisine are not as much consuming food as they are forming emotional connections to his cooking, just as a collector of fine art might do with a painting or sculpture.
“Even the smallest food will bring back your childhood or a memory you forgot,” says Klein.
Moreover, like a true artist, Klein cannot easily point to his greatest culinary accomplishment.
“It’s like having children,” Klein says. “Choosing which one you love the most is hard.”