Q&A | Graham Elliot, Chef: ‘If I had to choose one thing to eat, it would just be sushi’

Chef Graham Elliot, the award winning Michelin starred chef and television personality from American cooking show Top Chef, visited Macau last week where he met with the press at a food-tasting event. The Chicago-based chef is slated to open a restaurant at MGM Cotai, named ‘Coast’. Its name is inspired by America’s relaxed West Coast lifestyle. In a press interview, Elliot talks about his impressions of Macau and his culinary preferences.    

– The markets here are very different from the United States. How do you find it?

Graham Elliot (GE) – Yes. You know, I think it’s amazing how authentic everything is [here]. You know a lot of times the markets in the States, they appeal to people who have a lot of money and want really fancy things. And what I’ve seen here is it’s for everybody. And these things are really fresh. […]. Just seeing things are that alive and beautiful and the vegetables – stuff like that. And it’s very inspiring and we actually thought we want to get these kinds of things on the menu. So now we’re looking at how we’re going to maybe redesign parts of the kitchen in this place so that we can have that kind of stuff.

  What did you eat in Macau that you find is special?

GE – Clube Militar was cool. We tried to get as many Portuguese things as possible and ordered a ton of different dishes. Then we hit a bunch of local spots yesterday where we had almond cookies, which were great. We went to the spot where they made all the traditional Portuguese egg tarts, again trying to hit as many places as possible, even if they were not Michelin starred fancy restaurants. We went to all the little food stalls to try some of those things, and some of the streets that we walked in were places where we got lost.

– Will Coast source local ingredients?

GE – Yes, absolutely! I’m not from France, I’m not from Japan, I’m not from England but I’ve traveled all over because my dad was in the navy, especially within the Philippines and Hawaii, then through the 50 states of the US. I’m allowed to use ingredients from everywhere to make my style of food. Since I’m here, the more places I go, more people I meet, and with the different dishes I try, it will all be reflected in the menu.

– What will be the highlights of Coast?

GE – The highlight isn’t going to be just signature dishes, it’s going to be things that are influenced by the coastal region. So the wood burning over, shellfish bars, pizzas – you know, things that are very light and fresh, not steaks. You know, you might have one burger on the menu, but it’s not a burger place. It’s not just an American restaurant, it’s Western but inspired by things from the ocean and fresh produce. It’s important to realize that a restaurant is also an extension of the chef and the company, and things like that. So it’s not just cuisine, it’s the feel of the place, the energy, the decor, the uniforms, the music, all of that. So when you come in, it should be like you’re going to the person’s house; it’s very fun and relaxed.

– How important are the dining options to the overall resort experience in MGM Cotai?

GE – I think that everybody nowadays is a foodie, right? Everybody loves great cuisine; they love going to restaurants and taking pictures of everything. So before, I think restaurants used to be places where you were only offered food, but now it’s equally as important to provide a gaming experience as well. People demand it, and I think that MGM leads the way by bringing in some great chefs and showing that food can be something very, very special.

– What attracted you to bring Coast to Macau?

GE – You know, I had an opportunity to showcase what I do out here. The fact that it was MGM and a new property based in this region, and it had so much diversity in history all meant that it was an opportunity that I wanted to jump at being a part of. My first real position as a chef, where I guess I began to make a name for myself, was at the Peninsula Hotel. I actually worked under Chef Oliver Weber [director of Culinary at MGM] so the chance to work with him again was very exciting.

– The overwhelming majority of visitors to Macau are obviously from mainland China. How does it affect you in terms of what you’re thinking about for menu choices, or does is not really affect you?

GE – No, it absolutely does. And that one thing, I think, probably means that the menu is 75 percent there now, but instead of coming and dropping my restaurant and dishes here, I had to go back and change and say, “maybe this is going to be a little spicier, this is going to have less cream or cheese here, […] things like that… So the more that I taste, the more that I get to travel, and seeing things from this area absolutely influences the menu.

– Do you have any expectations to how guests will receive the menu that you’ve prepared?

GE – Yes, I think that if you go into any type of venture like this with an open mind and open eyes and you’re willing to change, you’re going to be successful. So I want to be able to hear feedback from everyone and keep adjusting so that maybe this dish is not spicy now, or maybe this one is too small and it should be larger to serve a family. So, I think that if every day and week we keep going, we’re going to learn from that and really cater towards those people who come in.

– What is your favorite dish?

GE – There are changes all the time but if I had to choose one thing to eat – for example, if I’m stuck on a deserted island – it would just be sushi. It’s important to have a relationship with food and know the history of it, where it’s from, and sometimes things can get too muddled and messy by putting too many things on a dish. So when you have a fish that comes out of the water and you’ve sliced it and you’ve taken care of it, when you taste […] it’s delicious and pure. I think that’s something that resonates with me.

– What is your cooking philosophy?

GE – I guess a couple things would include the idea that “less is more.” Sometimes the best ingredients are the ones that you don’t put on the plate – so just some very pure flavors. The other thing is understanding that cuisine is a grey area. It’s not black and white. You can turn it into anything you want. […] We should always be [able] to change, and make things new and exciting.

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