In this “Table 42” vignette, we join Cory Harwell, president at Simon Hospitality Group (SHG), to explore Carson Kitchen, a Foodable Top 25 restaurant in Las Vegas. Harwell is also co-founder of the group, which he started with the late Kerry Simon.
Harwell got his start in the industry at just 13 years old, and built his way up the ladder — from dishwashing to hosting to bartending to serving, and eventually opening and operating four restaurants under the SHG umbrella.
Understanding the Concept
“Kerry Simon and I set out to try to create a restaurant that would give an experience to the guest similar to what it would be like if you were going over to a celebrity chef’s house for dinner,” Harwell says of Carson Kitchen. “Sitting at the kitchen counter in his loft and engaging in conversation, and cheering in the wine, and watching him cook the food. We wanted to create a restaurant that celebrated that experience.” To align with this mentality, there is communal seating throughout the restaurant.
Harwell describes the menu as “eclectic.” The team took two approaches to the menu: “We either wanted to introduce you or reintroduce you, I should say, to familiar, comfortable dishes but with a twist — modernized,” he says. “Or we wanted to introduce you to new ingredients that maybe the average consumer would be afraid to try, but we get you to try them but putting them in familiar vehicles.”
In this episode, John Courtney, the culinary director at Carson Kitchen, makes wild boar sloppy joe, a prime example of how Harwell intends to showcase unique ingredients in familiar ways.
The Evolution of Las Vegas Dining
“I think Vegas is making significant changes in the food scene. When I moved here Labor Day of ’97, we were very much a “prime rib, buffet” town. And because of The Bellagio and Steve Wynn and Elizabeth Blau bringing celebrity chefs and bringing name restaurants in over the last 17 years, Vegas has really transformed itself into becoming a dining and retail and entertainment destination.”
Remembering Kerry Simon
“Kerry was so impactful to me personally, even more so than just our industry as a whole. I learned more from him in three years than I had for the previous 25 in this business,” says Harwell. “His approach to food, boldness in flavor, willingness to take risks, willingness to put something different or unique or fun on a plate, and be the first one at it. He was the first chef to put cotton candy on a dessert menu in a restaurant, the first fine-dining chef to break off into a casual space. He’s the first chef to put a kitchen table in a restaurant back in the ’80s when he worked at the Edwardian Room at The Plaza hotel in New York. David Bowie proposed to his wife at that table.” This is how Kerry got the name Rock ’n’ Roll Chef, says Harwell.
In their last conversation before his passing, Simon told Harwell that Carson Kitchen was his favorite restaurant that he ever built. Says Harwell, “I forever will be proud that I was able to build this with him.”