Zouk Group Executive Chef Joseph Elevado on his work under Nobu Matsuhisa and running Las Vegas’ hottest restaurants

Vibe Dining, the alluring trend in which nightlife meets fine dining, isn’t exactly new. But veteran chef Joseph Elevado has a knack for making every experience feel like the first time.

“I’ve always loved that kind of dinner where you hang out, pre-game for the night or party for the night wherever you are,” Elevado, executive chef of Zouk Group’s Fuhu, RedTail and Ayu Dayclub tells Resorts World. “I was a lot younger then too, so mood dining kind of found me.”

The New York native, who opened the first Nobu in Las Vegas in 1999, redefined pan-Asian cuisine at the trendy Treasure Island Social House hot spot in 2006 and did it again several years later at Encore’s Andrea’s, which became one of the first Strip restaurants fully integrated into a nightclub (Surrender). The Weekly sat down with Elevado to discuss the freedom to eat at Zouk, working under the legendary Nobu Matsuhisa and more.

How is working at Zouk’s restaurants different from other experiences you’ve had? At Zouk, I’m definitely immersed in the nightclub culture, more so than any other restaurant I’ve been to. I definitely have the ability to be creative here. The main focus for me when we opened was to embrace the original Fuhu in Malaysia, so I worked with some of the chefs there.

Obviously, at that time, the pandemic was kind of in the middle of it, so we were talking through Teams and trying to figure out how things worked. I just kind of rolled around with their menu, had my spin on what they did, and it was a totally immersive experience. For instance, [boxer] Canello [Álvarez] had his afterparty on our terrace for over 100 people, and at the same time we had Travis Scott having dinner in one of our private dining rooms for 20 people, plus another party for one of Canelo sponsors for Hennessy.

In Zouk, there was a lot more interaction with certain talents. We have a Tiësto roll on our [Fuhu] menu and we also have a Zedd dish. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of creativity with the team.

Before coming to Vegas, you worked under Nobu Matsuhisa for almost 10 years in New York. How was this experience? Surprising. I started there as a cook and worked my way up being dazzled, of course, by seeing all these different famous people there. I mean, you couldn’t attend a service without seeing a couple of celebrities having lunch or dinner at the original Nobu on Hudson Street. It was an amazing experience. Nobu has had a huge impact on my career and the way I see things, how I see the restaurant and how I prepare my food, how I treat my staff, everything.

Do any of Nobu’s tips stand out? He always told me to cook from the heart. He was always so honest and very open. At that time he had the first Nobu in New York. Then from there he had Nobu London and then I went to Vegas to open Nobu Vegas. So he traveled a lot. He wasn’t in the restaurant 24/7, but when he came to visit and check everything out, he was still super genuine.

How did you fall in love with cooking? I always loved watching my mom and grandma cook when I was younger. They were doing Filipino food. They would do Spring Rollsand I’ve always been interested in the process.

I went to college for international marketing, among other things. I didn’t do so well, because I wasn’t really interested, [but] I had a friend who went to New York Restaurant School on Canal Street just above Tribeca. I went to visit him there and we talked about it, and I thought, it could be fun. So I signed up for a cooking school, and it’s literally the best I’ve ever done in a school setting.

You spend a lot of time in the kitchens of Fuhu and RedTail. Which dishes do you think are must-haves? The RedTail Burger is one of my favorites. It’s a patty with blue cheese, bacon and garlic aioli – it’s probably my favorite burger. Believe it or not, we also have bolognese on the menu, and I think that’s pretty damn good too. For Fuhu, there is a dish that is found at Fuhu in Malaysia called a Sticky Lamb. There they use a lamb shank, and they do this whole process where they rub it with cilantro, cumin, all these different spices, and then they braise it and serve it with a sticky sauce made from palm sugar, which is a Malaysian coconut sugar or palm sugar. We had the same thing, but we made lamb chops instead, because in America everyone loves lamb chops. These are damn tasty.

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