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Rick Moonen on Discovering Matthew Accarrino, More

Rick Moonen
Rick Moonen
Photo: RM Seafood

Any food aficionado who has been around Vegas knows that Rick Moonen is the resident expert on sustainable fishing practices. The chef behind RM Seafood at Mandalay Place has been an outspoken advocate ever since his days of graduating first in his class at the Culinary Institute of America. He went on to work at La Côte Basque, Le Cirque and The Water Club in New York City before opening his own restaurant, Oceana, and then RM in New York. In 2005, he brought his seafood-centric restaurant, RM Seafood, to Vegas.

Aside from ensuring that fish can be sustainable, Moonen has a knack for finding young talent in the kitchen. At Oceana, he discovered Matthew Accarrino, now the chef at SPQR in San Francisco who was just nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: West. On Thursday, the duo will cook together again in a five-course seafood and Italian extravaganza to benefit Three Square Food Bank.

Tickets, $150, are still available for the dinner that starts at 7 p.m. with a cocktail reception featuring hand-crafted specialty cocktails by RM Seafood lead barman Nathan Greene. For reservations, call 702-632-9300 or email info@rmseafood.com.

Here, Moonen talks about cooking with Accarrino again, what the mentor learned from his protege and some of the new surprises diners can expect to find at the dinner.

What will it be like to cook with Matthew again?
Oh boy ? This is the mentor and student reunion. It's going to be fantastic! Matthew is one of the most talented chefs that I have ever had the pleasure of having worked for me. I spoke to Matthew recently and he said he learned the structure of the kitchen and discipline from Thomas Keller, he learned how to work with the media when he worked with Tom Colicchio and he learned about his palate, flavors and balance when he worked with me. He and the other chefs nicknamed me "The Palate" because I would always tell them they needed to balance this with flavor, add a little acid, etc. To get back together with him after he has matured and developed his own style based on all of his experiences, good names and traveling through Italy, I am proud to be cooking next to him and it's going to be a great dinner.

I know you've been a mentor to Matthew. Do you think with his success that he can teach you a few new tricks?
The best teacher is the one that needs to learn the most. I have always learned from people that I have been teaching.

What would they be?
Matthew is certainly no exception. He understands the precision cooking of thermal circulators, sous vide, the addition of stabilizers and science-based knowledge that we have today when it comes to Italian cuisine. He is taking traditional Italian cuisine and going even deeper into sourcing out the best ingredients that he can get and treating it with reverence. He took the time to learn these new techniques that are available today.

Do you think any of his influence will find a way on your menu?
It usually does. He is a creative and talented chef. He would always bring me things that I was blown away with. I would tweak it here and there, and he learned through that process and has become apart of what he is today. I am sure that I will be borrowing some techniques or influences that he brings to RM Seafood.

For the dinner on March 14, the two of you will be cooking together again. What do you plan to bring to the table?
We're going to alternate courses. We are going to start with a cocktail reception with some bites, then when our guests sit down they will get introduced to a light, smoked salmon consommé; vegetable "crostini," seaweed pearls, smoked roe prepared by Matthew. It's got that umami-ness to it. It will be followed by a very rich, glazed Kusshi oyster with sustainable caviar that I will be preparing. It's just the bite that keeps on giving. It has this richness, perfect temperature and the ocean flavor just keeps on lingering ? The saltiness of the caviar, the oils that it brings, the oyster and all of its nuances. And, that is followed by Matthew's crazy, multi-layered "Lasagna di Granchio" with fresh Dungeness crab, a fava bean pesto, pea shoot, and black truffle. Just a small little footprint on a plate but it's wonderful. Then I will be dong something that I am very excited about because it delivers so much umami and it's a big departure, my Spicy Green Papaya Salad with seared sea scallops. Similar to an intermezzo, this dish will cleanse your palate. Following up with a beautiful finish, is Matthew's surf and turf featuring beef belly with a lobster and mushroom "Budino Di Pane," asparagus, and smoked leek. This dish will just scream springtime! And then we're going to finish the dinner with a green tea and white chocolate panna cotta, offset with the sweetness of a pineapple, macadamia and passion fruit. This dish is also palate cleansing, delicious, and comforting.

Any surprises for the night?
Guests will receive a little walk away gift from Matthew, in a little box, he is making truffles from his restaurant and they get a signed copy of Matthew's book. For $150, you're going to get a lot of love and a lot of delicious food!

You have an eye for finding talented chefs. Any tips you can share with other chefs for finding the next culinary star?
Go out and eat a lot ? see who's cooking. And that is how I pretty much met everyone that I hired. I tasted Adam Sobel and Gerald Chin's food when I ate at Bradley Ogden's restaurant years ago. I know that they were young bucks in the kitchen. Also, pay attention when you go to events because they are there too. Get to know everybody. Vegas is very small town, so we know each other, the movement from restaurant to restaurant is a natural progression. It's all about getting around and tasting. You can't find it on a Website.
· Matthew Accarrino Returns to Cook with Rick Moonen [~ELV~]
· All Coverage of RM Seafood [~ELV~]

RM Seafood

3930 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, NV 89119 702-632-9300 Visit Website

Le Cirque

3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, NV 89109 702-693-8100 Visit Website

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