Meet Three Local Chefs
Chef Luis Monge, Executive Chef at BRAVO! Cucina Italiana
Chef Luis Monge got started in the culinary industry at the young age of 13, following in the footsteps of his mother, who inspired him to learn the art of cooking. Very established in his career, Monge helped open multiple restaurants in the Las Vegas area. He opened Sunset Station in 1997, Green Valley Ranch in 2001, Planet Dialies and Planet Hollywood in 2008.
Although experienced in cooking a variety of cuisines, Monge’s favorite type of cuisine to cook is Puerto Rican food, and he always keeps important ingredients like vegetables, proteins and wine in his refrigerator at home. Like most chefs, Monge has had his share of cooking mistakes and disasters in the kitchen. He remembers over-cooking rice that he was making into snowballs, but knows that experiences like that taught him to always measure out all ingredients before starting to cook a new dish.
Chef Monge will have been with BRAVO! Cucina Italiana for three years in December.
What is your favorite thing about being a chef?
“I like always being willing to learn new cuisines, and knowing that I don’t know everything about cooking and always keeping an open mind,” Monge says.
Chef Brittney Belanger, Owner and Head Cake Decorator at The Mad Batter Cafe and Bakery
Chef Brittney Belanger’s interest in baking started while working in a bakery at a grocery store after high school. While watching and observing the cake decorators at work, Belanger’s passion started to grow. She switched her college major to pastry arts and began to self-teach herself baking techniques via video tutorials. Through hard work and persistence, Belanger opened her first bakery at the very young age of 22.
Through being a baker, Belanger strives to be anything but traditional. Her cakes and pastries are always unique with her own twist. While there are many things she loves to bake, chocolate ganache is one of her favorites. She tries challenging recipes or creates her own to produce the perfect flavor. By always experimenting and creating new recipes, Belanger admits that mistakes happen, but each helps you learn and gets your recipe closer to where you need to be. Her passion for baking is strong, and in a way, meditative. Belanger feels that baking is so second nature to her that she can get completely lost in the act and close out the outside world, especially while baking her personally created cake recipes.
What is your favorite piece of equipment to use while baking?
“I was taught by my favorite professor/chef that your hands are your best tools,” Belanger says. “I still fully believe that. He told us that if you don’t know how to do something by hand, you don’t deserve to know how to do it with machinery. It showed such respect for the equipment.”
Chef Jaret Blinn, Owner and Chef at CRAFTkitchen
Chef Jaret Blinn’s interest in cooking started at a young age through cooking with his family and his love of Martin Yan’s cooking show. Though it started out as a hobby, Blinn found a way to make it his career. His cooking experiences span to many places, from being a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Maui to working in San Francisco to being the executive pastry chef at Le Cirque and Circo at Bellagio.
He opened CRAFTkitchen with his wife, Tami, in 2015. CRAFTkitchen is a great local, family restaurant that gives Blinn the opportunity to meet and interact with his guests, which he says is one of the most rewarding parts of being a chef and owning a restaurant. Not only do locals dine at CRAFTkitchen, but travelers from all over the world join them as well. The menu at CRAFTkitchen offers a variety of things for breakfast, lunch and brunch, and Blinn enjoys cooking it all. While his cooking preferences don’t really fall in just one place, barbecuing at home for his friends and family is one of his favorite cooking activities.
What is something you always keep in your refrigerator?
“I always have vanilla beans, mascarpone, Parmigiano-Reggiano and butter,” he says. “Those are high-quality items that can infuse or add depth in flavor to many items.”