After masterfully creating a grandiose meal of decadent Italian entrees for my guest and me, Executive Chef Michael Shaughnessy joins us to answer a few questions. It is a busy night at d.Vino Italian Food and Wine Bar. A convention is in town for the week and the restaurant staff is hustling to maintain the status quo on the dining room floor. We are inside one of d.Vino’s private rooms, seated at the end of a 16-person table equipped with neatly configured place settings and a crisp cotton tablecloth cascading elegantly down towards the carpet. Adorned with thick black-framed glasses and traditional chef’s whites, Shaughnessy dresses the part of Executive Chef.
At the ripe young age of 30, Shaughnessy is in the driver’s seat of d.Vino Italian Food & Wine Bar inside the Monte Carlo Hotel and Resort. For nearly nine months now, he has incorporated his cooking philosophy and raw talent into each dish, changing them in ways that are simplistic yet irresistible.
“Keep it simple, respect the ingredients, and let everything speak on its own,” Shaughnessy says. “Once you do that, you can put your own sudden twist into it at the end and play with the palate.”
Implementing his cooking ethos, Shaughnessy has revamped the d.Vino dining experience, which since his arrival has risen to a new standard. My guest and I witnessed this spectacle first hand tonight. Each dish is simply prepared, requiring no more than five ingredients. From the burrata mozzarella, prosciutto, and arugula on the pizza to the apple gremolata paired with the braised beef short ribs, each element of the dish had its time to shine on my palate. Suitable pairings at this caliber may take years to master. However, Shaughnessy has an innate cooking talent that only comes natural to some.Born and raised in New Brighton, Minnesota, Shaughnessy started his cooking career at 15 as a pizza cook. He had no desire to enroll in culinary school after he graduated, even though other cooks pointed out his natural talent. Instead, he pursued a career as an electrician. Yet, Shaughnessy kept feeling his natural instincts pulling him back into the kitchen.
“I had to get back,” Shaughnessy says. “Not just to the cooking, to the clanking of pots and pans, the plates going down, having fun with the dishwashers. All the stuff I love.” It’s something he had to get back into, so he attended Le Cordon Bleu, a prestigious culinary institution that produces many famous chefs like Julia Child, and hasn’t left the kitchen since.
After graduating, Shaughnessy traveled overseas to France for his externship. For two months, he refined his culinary skill even further under the watching eye of Master Chef Jean-Luc Simon. To Shaughnessy, Chef Simon is his Mr. Miyagi, an older educator passing down knowledge to his mentee. Shaughnessy recalls watching Chef Simon repeatedly creating decadent French entrees with grace and running his restaurant without breaking a sweat. In 2009, after working at Wolf Gang Puck for five years, Shaughnessy revisited his mentor to expand his culinary intelligence. Here, he coined the term, “What would Jean-Luc do?” when he felt stuck on a creating a new entrée or flavor combination. Even to this day, Shaughnessy continues to ask himself that when he’s in a rut at d.Vino.
“He will be a celebrity chef,” Robert Katz, General Manager of d.Vino, said earlier in the night. Besides putting d.Vino at the top of everyone’s “Places to Eat in Vegas” list, Shaughnessy plans to compete in “Chopped” on The Food Network. It’s been on his mind for a while now, and he feels that his staff at d.Vino will get him to the winner’s circle on the show.
At the end of the interview, Shaughnessy’s inner chef begins drawing him back to the kitchen. Every great chef can’t be away from the kitchen for too long. Yet, before we head out of d.Vino, I ask, “Can I get your autograph?” Shaughnessy smiles and signs my menu, a keepsake to remember the night.