THE WOMEN WHO MADE LAS VEGAS
By Byron Craft
THE UBER RESTAURANT MAVEN - ELIZABETH BLAU
She is the pillar of the Las Vegas restaurant scene. A food fanatic with an impressive service career spanning nearly three decades. This queen of cuisine has been widely credited with transforming Las Vegas into a world-class culinary destination. Decades from now, when food critiques of the future get into their “way-back machines” and scrutinize the boom of gastronomic excellence that has taken hold in Las Vegas, they will more than likely designate Elizabeth Blau as the controlling force that created practically every fine-dining experience in Sin City.
Elizabeth Blau grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she attended public school through the eighth grade. She went to Loomis Chaffee to “try something new,” she recalled years later. Loomis Chaffee is a premier co-educational boarding school for grades 9 through 12 and postgraduates; located on a 300-plus acre campus in the Connecticut River Valley in Windsor, Connecticut, six miles north of Hartford. Blau made long-lasting friendships there and excelled in academics. “I am still close to this day with my friends from Loomis Chaffee,” she once said. “My teachers were wonderful.”
Following departure from Loomis Chaffee, Elizabeth Blau earned a degree in Government and International Relations from Georgetown University. Her next academic achievement was when she graduated in 1995 from the prestigious Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. After Cornell, Blau’s career took off fast; she immediately went to work in the food industry with an early post under Sirio Maccioni, the celebrated Manhattan restaurateur. Maccioni had wined and dined high society in the Big Apple for nearly half a century. He was known to help launch the careers of many illustrious chefs and befriended a host of celebrities in the arts, politics, business and fashion. Elizabeth Blau helped Sirio Maccioni import New York’s beloved Le Cirque concept to Las Vegas. Le Cirque, today, is ranked worldwide by food experts as one of the best restaurants in the world. Blau’s work on the project caught the attention of Steve Wynn, who at the time, was CEO of Mirage Resorts. Accepting the position of Vice President of Restaurant Development for Mirage Resorts, she persuaded a group of award-winning chefs to join the company and the burgeoning Las Vegas dining scene. While at Mirage Resorts, Blau opened Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi, and began updating dining at the Mirage and Treasure Island. Subsequently, the Mirage Resorts were acquired by MGM Grand and Elizabeth Blau became Senior Vice President of Restaurant Development. In this capacity, she continued to develop, integrate and promote new restaurant concepts for the corporation’s many properties.
In 2003, Elizabeth Blau bankrolled her vast experience to fund Blau & Associates, a Las Vegas restaurant development company. The company plans and develops new restaurants and helps revive pre-existing ones. By 2004, Steve Wynn recruited Blau again, this time, to join Wynn Las Vegas as Executive Vice President of Restaurant Development and Marketing, with the goal to transform the food and beverage program for Steve’s latest project, the Bellagio, a 2.7-billion-dollar mega-resort. She developed a team that conceptualized, developed and marketed twenty-two unique dining, bar, lounge and nightclub establishments. They assembled an all-star team of “chefs-in-residence,” a groundbreaking concept that certified that the name on the establishment matched the working chef in the kitchen. Elizabeth Blau became a celebrity. She appeared as a judge on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” and was featured on the Travel Channel and the “Martha Stewart Show”.
Leaving Wynn Las Vegas after completing her objectives, Elizabeth returned to Blau & Associates. The company grew by leaps and bounds. With Blau at the helm, the business expanded its work with resorts and hotels to include a team of hospitality experts that quickly became one of the foremost restaurant development companies in the field, with clients such as the Ritz Carlton, Kor Group, Montage Resorts, Trump Casinos, Viceroy, Celebrity Cruises, and, of course, Wynn Resorts.
Elizabeth Blau is married to Chef Kim Canteenwalla, a visionary artist whose hands-on familiarity with restaurant operations, wealth of culinary knowledge and vast global experience characterizes his many accomplishments. Partners in Blau & Associates, the two launched Society Café at the Encore, one of Esquire Magazine’s “Best New Restaurants of 2009.” Blau’s longstanding friendship with celebrity Chef Kerry Simon resulted in their fifth collaboration when they opened Simon Restaurant & Lounge at Palms Place with partner George Maloof, the entrepreneur, businessman, former owner of the Sacramento Kings and a shareholder in the Palms Casino Resort. Elizabeth’s and Chef Kim’s resumés of experiences read like a “who’s-who” list of upscale restaurants, casinos, hotels, and resorts, along with some of the biggest names in the game. 2013 was a sensational year. They opened Honey Salt last October – a restaurant on South Rampart Boulevard in Vegas that was inspired by the countless meals they shared in their own home with friends over the years. It is a restaurant devoted to family, friends and community. The two also partnered with renowned baker, Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro, to open Buddy V’s Ristorante at the Venetian/Palazzo Resort, boasting family recipes passed down for generations and a fabulous view of the Las Vegas Strip. Blau & Associates are also alleged to re-open The Rainbow Room, the New York City restaurant and event space atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Rockefeller Center, by providing the culinary direction and operations strategy.
On top of being the CEO of her company, Elizabeth serves on several boards, including the Board of Trustees at The Culinary Institute of America and the Board for the President’s Council of Cornell Women. In addition, she was the commencement speaker at the 2008 Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. She has also been a speaker in the Cornell Deans Distinguished Lecture series, as well as at the École Hôteliere in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the University of California at Los Angeles.
Elizabeth Blau has received several awards for her work in transforming the Las Vegas food industry, making it one of the country’s top culinary destinations. She received the Gold Plate Award from the International Food Service Manufacturers for her innovation and leadership in the food service community. She also received the prestigious Hospy Award from the Las Vegas Chapter of the Network of Executive Women in Hospitality. In 2004, the American Cancer Society honored Blau for her enduring passion in transforming the Las Vegas dining scene. And in 2009, the I Have A Dream Foundation - Las Vegas named her “Dream Builder of the Year.”
Elizabeth Blau passionately supports Child Focus, an organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children in foster care. She also sits on the Board for Communities in Schools in Nevada, the state’s leading dropout prevention program. Blau serves on the advisory board of Three Square Food Bank in Las Vegas and the Board of Trustees for the Culinary Institute of America. She is a member of the James Beard Foundation and sits on advisory boards for Hotel F&B Executive Magazine and Viv Magazine. Elizabeth lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her husband and partner, Chef Kim Canteenwalla, and their son, Cole.
The Women Who Made Las Vegas is a series by Byron Craft, chronicling the growth of Sin City and the women who made it possible.
Honey Salt presents a Special Valentine’s Day Menu
Amuse-bouche: French Kiss Oysters & Champagne Toast – pink peppercorn mignonette.
First Course: (choice of): Shrimp Cocktail – horseradish, tomato jam;
or Perigord Black Truffle Pappardelle – roasted mushroom ragout.
Main Course: (choice of): Baked Stuffed Lobster – blood-orange braised fennel,
fingerling potatoes, lobster sauce; or Wagyu NY Strip – truffle potato rosti,
braised greens, bone-marrow vinaigrette.
Dessert: Red-Velvet Bundt Cake – raspberry sauce, McConnell’s chocolate ice cream;
and Valentine Kisses -Linzer cookies filled with raspberry jam.