Look What’s Cooking at Mon Ami Gabi (Paris Casino — Las Vegas)
Moments after the final course was made from scratch, served, and promptly devoured at Mon Ami Gabi’s renowned cooking class, I approached executive chef and part-owner Terry Lynch. My only question was — when’s the next class coming up? I was ready to pounce and make another reservation on the spot. For anyone who enjoys learning more about culinary history, the fine art of cooking and devising original recipes, and/or simply adores eating great food and drinking specialty cocktails much like I do — this experience isn’t to be missed.
Mr. Lynch responded that Mon Ami Gabi does offer classes periodically (on average, about every six months). They’re usually held on Saturdays from 10 am to noon. He explained that December would normally be the host month for the next class. However, Mr. Lynch said he was planning a month-long trip to Vietnam and Cambodia towards the year-end. Why am I telling you this? Allow me to explain. I think it’s indicative of why all of Mr. Lynch’s restaurants are a stand out in terms of quality, value, and originality.
First, a little more about the chef is warranted. Mr. Lynch is the mastermind of three Las Vegas establishments, and all are outstanding — (1) Mon Ami Gabi, which has the flair of a classic French bistro and is under the Eiffel Tower, overlooking the Bellagio fountains. (2) El Segundo Sol, which I rank as the best Mexican restaurant in the city (it’s more of a Yucatan-themed menu, although that’s way too limited an explanation — trust me, just try it), nestled on the first floor beneath Maggiano’s Little Italy, in Fashion Show Mall, across the street from the Wynn. CLICK HERE (3) Stripburger, which is right next to El Segundo Sol and facing the street, with an outdoor patio, by far the most casual of Lynch’s restaurants. CLICK HERE
Marieta and I have now enjoyed six classes between all his three restaurants. Each one was unique (and quite tasty). We keep coming back for more because not only is the food consistently outstanding (especially for the money), but Mr. Lynch also comes across as a master showman and instructor. He’s not flashy. He doesn’t shout to maintain the audience’s attention. Don’t expect Emeril Lagasse or Bobby Flay. Instead, you’re likely to learn new things you probably didn’t know before, combined with the satisfaction of enjoying a fine meal made from the best ingredients.
On this morning’s visit, we were told how to hold various fruits and vegetables when cutting, the differences in various cooking oils, and why French white wine is better than Californian. That might not sound like riveting Las Vegas Strip theatrics. But Mr. Lynch manages to infuse every bite with the complete story of where it came from, why various ingredients were selected after numerous trials, and precisely how it was prepared. Perhaps the power of suggestion is way too strong a temptation. But Mr. Lynch’s tutorial of taste makes for a blissful blend, indeed.
Let’s get back to Vietnam and Cambodia, which are included in the itinerary of Mr. Lynch’s upcoming trip. Each time there’s a cooking class, Mr. Lunch shares a few of his travel experiences with us and tells us things he learns, particularly as it pertains to picking out the freshest ingredients or coming up with a new dish or beverage. In short, Mr. Lynch always appears to be self-educating and therefore growing, reinforcing the confidence that’s needed to push his (and our) boundaries with new culinary ideas. Whether it’s an unusual texture of rice he uses in his Mexican cooking (he tried 40 different kinds from all over the world before settling on the one now used), to ordering cheeses and creams from one of Northern California’s finest dairies (Straus Family Creamery), to insisting that his sangria marinates for five full days before being served — what sets his preparation apart is the details.
One expects that upon his return from another part of the world, accompanying Mr. Lynch will be many new ideas and techniques he’s eager to try out. Lucky us for being his willing test subjects.
10 am — Here’s the class menu. We’re being treated to a soup, a salad, a main course, and a dessert. We also begin with a French coffee, a fresh iced tea, a Chambord cocktail, and a (bottomless) glass of French champagne.
10:15 — I tend to like my ice tea with no sugar added, nor special flavorings. I like it plain and simple. However, I do enjoy ginger and occasionally other ingredients mixed in. Here, Mr. Lynch infused the iced tea with some kind of plant which gave it a special taste. It was also nice to see entire pitchers placed out on the tables, instead of having to beg for refills. I love my iced tea, especially on a hot day. This house-made tea really hit the spot.
10:20 — Next, Mr. Lynch made a refreshing specialty cocktail consisting of fresh hand-made lemonade (made from scratch), raspberries, and the vastly underutilized French liquor, Chambord. I wish there was a swimming pool made from this cocktail. I’d jump in and wishfully drown.
10:25 — The cooking class consisted of about 25 people. We all sat at tables facing the chef. The class was held inside a private room. Mr. Lynch asked for volunteers to do various cooking things. But there’s no work required. This really isn’t a “class” so much as a “show.” Best of all, it’s about far more than cooking — including history, travel, and acquiring the skill of selectivity.
10:30 — Watching the chef and his assistant make Gold Tomato Romesco Gazpachio from scratch was a rare treat. Tasting it, with it’s rich textures and unique flavors was even more divine. Absolute perfection.
10:40 — No French meal before noon would be complete without a glass (a few glasses) of champagne. We enjoyed a nice crisp, bone dry Louis Latour, which sure hit the spot.
11:00 — If you would have told me I’d attend a cooking class with Seared Ahi Tuna as the main course, I would have insisted you’re crazy. Not a fan of tuna, and especially lightly cooked sea creatures. This tuna was hand-cut, then seared in pure olive oil for about a minute, then served, which was raw in the middle. Hard to describe this taste unless perhaps you are a fan of sushi (I’m not). Overcooking and unnecessarily added too many spices do tend to mask natural flavors. Accordingly, I was delighted to expand my horizons a bit by tasting the seared/raw tuna, accompanied with a generous portion of fresh snapped green beans infused with tomatoes and a homemade mustard dressing (Green Bean-Tomato Salad with Summer Herb Vinaigrette). This was a perfect blend of tastes and textures, and frankly was a pleasant surprise.
11:10 — Time for more champagne. Fill her up!
11:15 — Speaking of re-fills, got anymore of that Chambord cocktail? Good, right over here. Hate to see anything go to waste. I’ll sacrifice myself one more time. I’ll take one for the team.
11:20 — Time to start the dessert. Mr. Lynch doesn’t take any shortcuts. Every ingredient is made fresh, including the pastry dough. Here, we see the dough made from flour, later to be combined with an iceberg of butter. French cooking is a love affair with butter, and Lynch doesn’t break from tradition. Good thing.
11:45 — About 20 minutes later, we enjoy a fresh Blackberry Tart. Again, the attention was in the details — a flaky, layered, buttery crust. I devoured mine in about 45 seconds. I have a weakness for fresh pastries. Okay, an addiction.
Noon — Bill arrives. With everything, including tax and tip, the cost came to $135.00 for two. Not bad for a complete three-course meal, including drinks, coffee, a two-hour show, and quite an education, not to mention a fun time.
Here’s to Terry Lynch learning new things when he travels to in Asia in December and coming back and sharing even more of his talents with those who enjoy the best cooking traditions infused with exciting new ingredients and techniques.
In the meantime, give Mon Ami Gabi a try. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.