By Lila Asnani, Foodable Contributor
Meet Russ Hurry, the Executive Chef of the MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
The MGM Grand LV Hotel is part of the MGM Resorts International Corporation, which has major stakes in entertainment, hospitality and gaming. The MGM owns and operates 13 properties nationally and has 50 percent investments in four properties nationally and internationally.
The MGM Grand LV is the third largest hotel in the world by number of rooms (5,044) and the largest hotel resort complex in the U.S. The property spans 6.6 acres and includes a convention center and the gigantic MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Progression of an Executive Chef
Russ, who is 45 years old, is originally from the Dallas/Ft Worth area in Texas and started his culinary journey at age 19 when he moved to Las Vegas.
He began his flourishing career 17 years ago with MGM Resorts when he was spotted as an upcoming talent and promoted to Master Cook. From there he went on to hold different positions like sous chef and assistant chef and, eventually, his current position as the Executive Chef of the MGM Grand LV which he has held for the past three years.
Russ oversees the entire culinary division which consists of 20-30 different food and beverage outlets. This includes leased venues, chef partner venues, and 100-percent owned venues.
He is directly responsible for the 15 wholly owned restaurants and 850 employees that make up the culinary division. His daily responsibilities include visiting the different restaurants to evaluate menus, set up tastings, review financial reports, food costs and labor standards.
When you include the banquet facility, employee dining rooms and restaurants, the MGM LV serves between 15,000-20,000 diners on any one day. This number can fluctuate between 5,000-10,000 when the MGM LV plays host to conventions and concerts.
Challenges of Competing With Smaller Restaurants
Russ feels that personalized service is key for a giant resort, like the MGM LV, to be able to compete with smaller restaurants and hotels.
He notes that Las Vegas is solely a tourist destination and people visit for different reasons but they are all vacation related. “The average guest is looking for a great experience that they can’t get locally [in their hometowns],” says Russ.
The expectations are very high for Las Vegas, and the MGM LV tries to ensure this by making sure that the customer’s entire dining experience, from cocktails to dessert, is memorable. Their service teams try to get to know the diners so that they can acknowledge and mark special occasions or celebrations, and restaurant chefs are encouraged to mingle with the guests.
Food Trends in Las Vegas
The food scene has changed tremendously since Russ first arrived in Las Vegas. He thinks this culinary surge has really been spurred by the celebrity chefs who opened restaurants here “because Las Vegas became a foodie town.”
“The Vegas restaurants used to be closed up and private and you couldn’t see what was going on unless you went into them. Now, everything is more open, transparent and spacious and you can look into the restaurants and see and feel the energy and how things are transpiring,” says Russ.
The trend, according to him, “seems to be headed towards pubs and sports bars, which the average American can relate to… restaurants that are more approachable” and can still provide premium service and high-quality products at affordable prices.
Drive and Motivation
“I love what I do. I love coming to work and my interactions with the chefs. I love being part of the menu process, collaborating and creating a final product on the menu and seeing the (diner’s) reaction and comments on the final product. I love to mentor and guide the individuals that report up to me, to get them to the level that they are capable of or where they want to be, and I love that I can help provide them with the necessary tools to succeed” Russ says.
Being the Executive Chef of such a large operation certainly has its fair share of challenges and it’s nice to note that the intrinsic rewards are plenty too, especially for Russ who loves what he does and whose passion has clearly propelled him to his much-deserved success.