How does Steve Benjamin, Joel Robuchon’s right-hand man, de-stress?
Sun, Jul 22, 2012 (11:13 p.m.)
Photo: Beverly Poppe
While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip and Las personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. Our thanks to them all. We continue today with Steve Benjamin, executive chef of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand, chef Robuchon’s right-hand man and a food star in his own right.
I dreamed of becoming a chef ever since I began cooking at age 14. Once I earned my executive chef title, I learned that working in the Chef of the Century’s Michelin-starred restaurant comes with a lot of pressure.
That’s why when I’m not in the kitchen, I let off steam by surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding and golfing. That might not be what you would expect to hear, so let me give you a little insight into my experience working with Mr. Joel Robuchon and my favorite pastimes.
In 2003, I was a part of the opening team of L’Atelier in Paris. When we started, we had 22 cooks and after one week decreased to eight cooks. The rest couldn’t handle the pressure! It was a very crazy time.
To make certain that everything was perfect, our days began at 7 a.m. and didn’t end until 3 a.m. Mr. Robuchon puts the pressure on to ensure that everyone is preparing everything correctly. For me, I need this pressure. It makes be perform at my best.
One day while I was carving the famous Iberian ham for service, Mr. Robuchon asked me, “Would you like to go to L’Atelier in Las Vegas?” I said, “Sure, why not?” It was that simple.
Within six months, my family and I were on our way to Las Vegas. Once I got here, I found a whole new level of responsibility. It’s my job to make sure the restaurant lives up to Mr. Robuchon’s incredibly high standards every day.
For example, the first thing I do when I walk into my kitchen is look at the floor. I learned that from Mr. Robuchon. If the floor is spotless, it means that everyone is working correctly.
When we do prep in the morning, I sample everything from the mussels to the foie gras. I can be strict at times, but a great team needs a great leader. I learned that from Mr. Robuchon, too.
In the beginning, it was a bit of a struggle, but now I have found a balance. I spend 14 hours a day in my kitchen, so when I’m off, I have to make sure that I really enjoy myself. I love to spend time with my wife and daughter, and I also have a lot of hobbies.
One thing I truly enjoy is skateboarding. I have a long skateboard, which is perfect for rolling around Las Vegas. Sometimes when I end work at 1 a.m., I head downtown to skate the streets at night. There aren’t a lot of people around; sometimes I’m the only person, which is exciting and even a little scary.
But it’s a nice change from being on the Strip during the day when it’s crowded and so full of people that it’s hard to walk. About an hour and a half of skating after service is definitely a cool way to de-stress.
On the weekends, I bring my chocolate Labrador along and skate around Sunset Park. It’s a great way for us to get outside and get some exercise. I also try to snowboard and surf as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll wake my wife up at 5 a.m. to drive to California to go surfing for the day.
I love being spontaneous. It makes me feel alive!
Our thanks to Steve for his view from behind the grill at the top Las Vegas restaurant. Be sure to check out our other guest columns today from “Pawn Stars” hero Corey Harrison and Diane Palm with her behind-the-scenes secrets of “Jubilee!” at Bally’s. Join us again Monday when our guests are comedian George Wallace, “Chopped” winner chef Christina Olivarez and hospitality hero Jonathan Fine.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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