Merrill Shindler / April 2008
Food Arts presents the April 2008 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Elizabeth Blau—the powerhouse who's done as much as anyone to make Las Vegas one of the great dining destinations of the world. Though she's sufficiently statuesque to be mistaken for one of Sin City's fabled showgirls, Blau prefers to turn people on with food rather than feathers.
Blau began by earning a bachelor's degree in government and international relations from Georgetown University. ("Very useful," she says, "for dealing with restaurateurs and chefs.") She also worked as a professional model and as an artisanal candy maker before earning a master's degree from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.
In 1995, Blau was hired by Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque to work with his sons opening Osteria del Circo in New York City and then to open Le Cirque 2000 at the New York Palace Hotel. In 1997, she was asked to work on a branch of Le Cirque at Steve Wynn's soon-to-open Bellagio in Las Vegas. Wynn was a family friend--Elizabeth knew him through his daughters. It was a magical confluence of personalities, with the most powerful and influential figure in the new Las Vegas becoming the great mentor of her life.
"You can't speak of what we've accomplished in Las Vegas without giving credit to Steve Wynn," says Blau. "Though there were high-profile chefs in Las Vegas before Bellagio, Steve raised the notion of the celebrity chef to high art. He gave me the leverage to bring in the best. They were skeptical. But Steve can be very persuasive."
And so, for that matter, is Blau. At the age of 31, she became senior vice president of restaurant development for what was at the time Wynn's corporate entity, MGM/Mirage, filling the new Bellagio with five-star names like Todd English, Grant MacPherson, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and, of course, the Maccionis. She opened Wynn's Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, and transformed the Mirage and Treasure Island in Las Vegas from good places to eat to culinary destinations. She started her own restaurant consulting firm, Blau and Associates. Then Wynn decided it was time to raise the bar again. And Blau got busy creating the cuisine of Wynn Las Vegas.
She assembled a team of culinary experts to fill the Wynn's halls with "chefs-in-residence." When the dust had settled, Alex Stratta had Alex and Corsa Cucina, Paul Bartolotta was cooking at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, not far from Daniel Boulud, with David Walzog at SW Steakhouse.
Along with chef Kerry Simon and her chef husband, Kim Canteenwalla, Blau opened several Simon restaurants in hotel and resort properties in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Telluride, Colorado. Her consulting company is now polishing the culinary profiles of an international swath of hotels, resorts, casinos, and cruise lines—from Wynn Macau to the One & Only Palmilla in Cabo San Lucas to Celebrity Cruises—spreading the Elizabeth Blau style worldwide.