The dish on Tahoe’s hottest new culinary addition.
By Rae & Troy Matthews, Elevation Eats
Lake Tahoe is now the third location in the world for Hell’s Kitchen, the restaurant based on the hit culinary reality TV series starring Chef Gordon Ramsay. Incorporating gastronomic and design elements from the show, Hell’s Kitchen is a game changer for the Reno/Tahoe food scene. We sat down with Christina Wilson, corporate chef for the Gordon Ramsay Restaurant Group and winner of season 10, Michelle Tribble, winner of season 17 and executive chef at Hell’s Kitchen Las Vegas, and Jayson Behrendt, executive chef at Hell’s Kitchen Lake Tahoe to get the scoop.
Taken with Tahoe
The original Hell’s Kitchen opened in Caesars Palace Las Vegas in 2018. The restaurant design made guests feel like they were on the set of the show — complete with a Ramsay-inspired menu; an open kitchen with red and blue sections, reminiscent of the show’s red and blue chef teams; and, a kitchen staff that talked openly in front of the guests (short of the yelling and insults). The popular spot became a fine dining experience unlike any other in the world. The Las Vegas restaurant had an astonishing 25,000 reservations in the first three months. The second location opened in Caesars Palace Bluewaters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
While scouting for a third location, Chef Ramsay was taken with Tahoe. “He fell in love,” says Wilson, “He sent me a picture before he flew out, and was like, ‘be prepared for Tahoe.’ It was immediate.”
Hell’s Kitchen was a natural fit for Harveys Lake Tahoe Hotel and Casino, a casino brand that originated in Tahoe, and is now a Caesars property. Hell’s Kitchen occupies the space once held by Sage Room, the original Tahoe fine dining restaurant. Sage Room still exists upstairs on the 19th floor of Harveys, taking over the space for 19 Kitchen & Bar.
Like its counterparts, the Tahoe Hell’s Kitchen features Chef Ramsay’s signature dishes, including beef wellington, lobster risotto, rack of lamb and crispy skin salmon, along with signature craft cocktails such as Notes from Gordon, a green tea-infused gin with house-made peach syrup topped with peach soda, featuring a note from Ramsay with a classic insult; a bit like a fortune cookie for the gastronomic masochistic. Our sample had a note that said, “The pork is so raw it’s still singing Hakuna Matata.”
Although the restaurant plays homage to Chef Ramsay and the show, it is in no way a clone of its counterparts. Ramsay intentionally chose Tahoe, and as with all of his restaurants, it honors the uniqueness of the locale. In selecting an executive chef, Ramsay turned to Tahoe local Chef Jayson Behrendt, veteran of the Tahoe food scene with head chef at 19 Kitchen & Bar on his resume.
Chef Behrendt will incorporate Ramsay’s signatures in the design of the menu but will also add his own personal flair.
“Even more so than Vegas, we are going to have to depend on repeat business and cater to the locals,” Behrendt says. “We want to keep the menu fresh and keep changing it with the seasons.”
According to Tribble, each chef adds their own unique touch to the signatures, “It’s not always the same risotto every season, it changes flavors, and same thing in the restaurant. We’ll go from butternut risotto to truffle risotto to tomato saffron risotto. The influence for each chef is there.”
In addition to the menu, the look and feel of the restaurant is unique to Tahoe as well. “You will see a lot of nods and respect paid to Sage [Room] and the history,” Wilson adds.
Raising the Bar
Before finalizing the Tahoe location, Ramsay actually went undercover, donning a hat to cover his face and visiting local restaurants incognito. “I shouldn’t blow his cover, but he wears … ” don’t worry, Chef Wilson, we won’t either.
“Gordon would never just plop himself in a city. He will come somewhere and learn it first,” Wilson explains, “He wants to see where he can make things better and help put this area on the map a little more.”
While few of us locals likely noticed him, Ramsay was out and about doing research; making sure Hell’s Kitchen would fit in, not contrast or overshadow the existing Tahoe food scene.
“This is the first time I’ve ever talked about it out loud, and I’ve been working with Gordon seven years now. He does so much of that kind of thing under the radar,” Wilson adds.
With a firm belief that a rising tide raises all ships, Ramsay and his team hope the introduction of a celebrity chef restaurant will help make Tahoe a culinary destination for tourists from around the world. The team strives to highlight and support the innovative restaurants that already exist here.
“When you start to get a little more attention brought to the area in general, what’s great is that people aren’t coming in for a night to dine, one time, at Hell’s Kitchen,” says Wilson.
“If they come to our restaurant and have an experience at a certain level, they are going to think that of the town … indirectly it will challenge the local chefs to up their game.”
The chefs advise booking a reservation well in advance for a table at Hell’s Kitchen. The restaurant already saw 8,000 reservations in the first two weeks. They had a soft opening in December and plan for a grand opening in March. A table reservation during the 5 – 8 p.m. dinner service is currently booking up to four weeks out and could be longer as the opening approaches. So plan ahead! And we’ll see you in Hell’s Kitchen.