Rick Moonen

Chef, Restaurateur, Author

Las Vegas

Chef Rick Moonen has always had a fascination with food. He followed his passion to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where he graduated first in his class. Moonen used his training in top-notch New York kitchens, such as Le Cirque and The Water Club. Seafood became a big part of his life when he assumed the position of executive chef and partner at Oceana, then created Molyvos, a Greek fish house. Moonen went on to open his own restaurant, rm, in New York, but then headed to Las Vegas where he debuted rm seafood at Mandalay Bay in 2005. Aside from being a chef, Moonen is a devoted advocate for sustainable seafood. In 2008, he published his first cookbook, Fish Without a Doubt, which is a hands-on guide to buying, preparing and cooking a wide array of fish.

  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What are the best restaurants in Las Vegas?

    I enjoy going to Honey Pig, which is a Korean restaurant. For tapas or small plates, I like to go to Jaleo, which is José Andrés’ restaurant at The Cosmopolitan. For good, well-presented, delicious French dishes, I like to go to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. If I want to eat really, really healthy, I go to Go Raw, which is tucked away in the Lakes. There’s nothing cooked there; everything is just raw food, and it’s really good for you.

    It depends what I’m in the mood for, too. For ramen noodles, I go to a place called Monta in Chinatown. That’s all they serve. You’re in and out of there within a half an hour usually, and it does the job. It’s really good. For Chinese food, I tend to go to a place called China Mama on Jones right off of Spring Mound. It doesn’t have a liquor license, but it has killer food — really interesting stuff that’s not what Americans expect to get. It’s not chow mein. It’s Szechuan fish cooked in a chili paste that’s just going to make your lips sweat, but it’s so good. Those are the kind of places that I enjoy.

    Le Thai, as far as eating in a restaurant downtown, is doing a great job, too. It’s small. Not a lot of money has been spent on the décor, but the food is killer, and it’s a good menu.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What are the best bars in Las Vegas?

    Recently, I went to a place at the Hard Rock called Culinary Dropout. I think that’s a cool bar. I think that it’s taking its beverage program very seriously. I like the cocktails that you get, generally speaking, at The Cosmo; everything from the Vesper Bar downstairs on up into Jaleo does some really interesting cocktails. Even at Comme Ça, you can talk to a bartender who is really into crafting something for you.

    Herbs and Rye on Sahara, which is a small place, pays homage to the old-style cocktails, yet it’s modernizing it a little bit. I like to go there just for a drink. For atmosphere and ambiance, I’ve been to The Barrymore, which I think is pretty cool. It’s another one of those off-the-beaten-path bars and lounge areas, which is fun.

    Downtown, there are a lot of places you can go. There’s the Downtown Cocktail Room. There’s also Commonwealth, which is really gaining popularity downtown. It’s a pretty cool place as well.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What is Rick Moonen’s take on the evolution of fine dining?

    It’s certainly being redefined. That’s really what I’m trying to do in the upstairs space at rm seafood, reconceptualize a fine-dining restaurant that’s kind like “eh.” People don’t want to sit down and have three hours of structured meals. It’s too ceremonious. I think some of the ceremony is coming out of fine dining. It’s becoming more relaxed. It’s still delivering surprises in textures and flavors of perceptional high-end ingredients, so I think that’s where fine dining is evolving. There’s still all of the steps of service, feeling catered to and pampered so that your needs are being attended to, but it’s not in the same pretentious environment that it has been in the past. Those restaurants are around and always will be. If you’re going to go to an upscale restaurant, you’re going to expect a specific experience, but that’s not something you do on a regular basis. Fine dining is still more of a “get dressed up, go out, get treated well,” but less formality.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What’s Rick Moonen’s favorite dish?

    Lately, my favorite dish has been — and it’s a Thai influence — a green papaya salad. Papaya is so healthy, so low in calories, yet it brings on so much. It’s great for digestion. It’s got an enzyme — papain — that’s used as a meat tenderizer because it’s so powerful in digesting proteins. So when you eat it, it breaks down the proteins and the foods that you ate in your stomach much more efficiently. It gives your stomach a chance to relax because it’s doing the work for you. Also, it means that you’re going to absorb more of the nutrients that you just ate. It’s a natural anti-toxin; it detoxifies. It takes out carcinogenic parts that may be accumulating in your system; it helps cleanse you of that. The papain is actually used to remove venom or pain from bee stings. It’s also an exfoliant; if you put it on your skin, it will dissolve the dry skin off of your hands or your face.

    Anyway, it’s good for you, but what makes it delicious is the green papaya dressing that goes on it, which is a combination of fish sauce, a little lime juice, garlic, chiles, hot chili peppers, sweetened with a little bit of honey or palm sugar and a little shrimp paste, which is a pureed shrimp and dried shrimp. If you don’t have that at home, I usually just add anchovy filets to fortify the fish sauce that’s already in there. Put that combination on top of the green papaya, carrots, bean sprouts, tomatoes, herbs — because I love the freshness of herbs, there’s cilantro and mint in there. It’s so good. It’s fantastic with fish and meat. I love to serve it with seared sea scallops.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What are Rick Moonen’s favorite ingredients?

    Garlic. Very rarely do I cook a dinner or anything where I don’t use a lot of garlic. I love garlic. I think garlic is good for you. It’s a great flavor, cooked properly, and it’s not offensive. It just adds depth and flavor, and I just find that incredibly intriguing. I like Asian flavors, so I’m a big fan of fish sauce. I’ll put it places that you may not even think. Instead of adding just salt, I’ll add fish sauce because it brings an umami, a different depth that is intriguing — anchovies, that flavor.

    All citrus — it’s an important part of bright flavors for me; it comes a lot from lemon, lime, grapefruit, yuzu, whatever I can put my hands on at the time. It could be clementines. Recently, I made an orange-and-saffron sauce for a fish I was cooking at home; it turned out great. Those are the basic go-to flavors that I rely on pretty heavily. I love the flavor of fennel, too — fresh or dried. It could be fennel seeds, star anise; that whole flavor it brings to food is something that I tend to go to fairly regularly. And citrus and fennel go great together as well, so there you go.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What are Rick Moonen’s most important kitchen tools?

    I use a lot of citrus in my food, so my microplane to remove the zest from any particular citrus or to shave everything from nutmeg to cheese. I just love microplanes, and I always travel with those. Whenever I’m going to some sort of cooking demo, an automatic is my microplane and, of course, my knives, and juicers to squeeze the citrus. At home, I use those Slap Chops — those things that chop up garlic real easily that you can get from the Pampered Chef. It’s something that I use always.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What would Rick Moonen serve at his ultimate dinner party?

    It depends on the time of year, of course. If it’s the summertime and it’s friends coming over to my house and I just want to relax and enjoy my time with them, nine out of 10 times I’m grilling or barbecuing. In the colder weather, it’s more braises and the comfort food that comes along with that. It could be anything, like an osso buco, braised lamb shanks or some kind of real rich, sticky, delicious protein, and a lot of vegetables to go with it that will make it lighter, healthier. I like to eat healthy, but I like flavor and textures. 

    When it comes to the unusual [ingredients], there’s an international market in Las Vegas that I like to go to that’s on Decatur off of Tropicana. It’s a really great one. It features flavors from all over the world; there’s very little you can’t pick up there. I just found a meat market recently that’s really, really cool up in my neck of the woods where I live. I live pretty far away from the Strip, and it’s a place that will actually process your deer if you bring it in. You can get all kinds of game meats and stuff from it. If it’s an important dinner that I’m doing at home, I’ll source through my restaurant’s purveyors because they’re more apt to give me what I want.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What’s the best trip Rick Moonen has ever taken?

    I was asked to go to Oaxaca, Mexico, on a challenge. It was a pilot for a television concept where you would take a chef — that being me for this particular situation — who was known for a specific type of cuisine and bring him to a part of the world that is unrelated to that type of cuisine and introduce him to the culture, food palate and flavors of the area. Then I was sent to the market with a budget to purchase a bunch of items that were influential to me. Next, they stuck me on a cruise liner in a galley where I had to cook a meal with the stuff that I bought for the captain and 12 of his invited guests. Although I was working, it was where I met my wife, who I love dearly and who I travel with everywhere right now. So that trip, for what it was and what came of it, was probably my favorite.

    It turned out great, and I learned a lot. It told me a lot about myself, too. I mean Oaxaca, Mexico, is deep in history, has so much going on and is so cool — it was very, very inspirational for me.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What shops does Rick Moonen visit when he travels?

    I always shop in food markets like Eataly. My favorite type of place is anything to do with kitchen gadgets, knives, markets or food. They are the types of places that I can’t walk by without at least sticking my nose in there.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What does Rick Moonen bring home from his travels?

    I’m always collecting ideas, but that’s not tangible. Lately, I’ve been buying different crucifixes from different cultures and areas because I’m creating a little display of them in my house. It’s not because I’m religious, but because I think they’re really cool.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What is Rick Moonen’s favorite airline?

    Southwest. For getting around the United States, it’s got the right culture. It seems to treat you with the most amount of respect, with simple travel. I’m not talking about super-luxury airlines traveling around the world, I’m talking about just getting around. I like to use Southwest for that because even though you’ve got to wait in line and fight for your own seat, etc., it seems that it is the most accommodating when you have an issue, and I appreciate that. That’s hospitality.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What are Rick Moonen’s favorite restaurants?

    I always have different intentions. I’ll go to really more of a modern-cuisine-type restaurant to see what’s going on in the new world of cuisine — in Chicago, you end up going to Alinea. And then, of course, Wylie Dufresne’s wd~50 in New York for that genre of intrigue. I love the science of food, so I love to watch what people are doing.

    In Las Vegas, I like to go to Robuchon’s restaurants — L’Atelier and Joël Robuchon at The Mansion. For fine dining, I like Daniel in New York City. Wherever there’s a Daniel Boulud restaurant, I’ll always try it out because I think he’s really, really smart about how he does things. And even Danny Meyer’s restaurants, whenever he’s come up with a new concept. I like to keep my finger on the pulse of what these great thinkers are doing so I can feel an association with them. That’s really why I go to dine — to have good food and a good time, but also to stay on top of food trends.

    I like down-and-dirty, really cool restaurants like The Breslin in New York, which is such a small restaurant but it’s cool, it’s hip, it feels right. It’s kind of a growing genre of that type of restaurant: bohemian-style, utilizing cuts of meat and food that isn’t always considered the high-end. It’s more comfort food. I love restaurants like that as well. 

    I also love ethnic restaurants that are doing it right. I love to visit Chinatowns. In Las Vegas, I go to a Korean barbecue type place that’s tucked away in the back of a strip mall that’s authentic.

    Honest food excites me. That can come from just about anywhere and on any level, from sit-down, roll-up-your-sleeves really good food in a very inexpensive environment to the finest, where you walk into The Mansion at MGM Grand and you feel like if you take the wrong step, someone’s going to look at you. But I understand and appreciate it all and enjoy it.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What are Rick Moonen’s favorite cities?

    I love New Orleans because of its authentic enthusiasm for life, food, music, entertainment — everything. I’m not crazy about the weather certain times of the year, but other than that, it’s great.

    I love Vancouver for its embrace of sustainability. There’s just a natural understanding and respect for the environment in that sector of the world. Plus, it’s a really great food city. It’s very enthusiastic about different cuisines. There’s an incredible Chinatown up there, so I love visiting.

    How can you describe Seattle, other than bad weather? There’s great food there, great enthusiasm. Maybe to a slightly lesser degree than Vancouver, it has an understanding of sustainability and that mentality and embrace. There’s a deeper respect for the relationship between food and its environment. People, in general, there are just cheerful; they’re nice; they’re very helpful, very accommodating. It’s a welcoming city. 

    I like San Francisco for its incredible diversity and excitement. Also, it’s like the entire West Coast seems to have a better understanding of environment.

    New York has to be on the list because that’s where I’m from — the Big Apple — and for the excitement of it. I have a deep connection with it because I grew up there, so I understand what I’m dealing with: straight-forward, in your face, here it is, constant change, evolution and everything that New York brings.

    Of course, I have to add Paris, one of the romantic cities, an easy one.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What is Rick Moonen doing in 2013?

    Right now I am reconceptualizing the upstairs portion of my restaurant in The Shoppes at Mandalay Place in Mandalay Bay, which is like opening up a whole other restaurant. It’s very exciting. I’m reinventing the fine-dining section of my restaurant. I expect it to open by June of 2013.

    There are a lot of changes going on in Mandalay Bay, so I’m trying to have it all coincide with the re-opening of our theater. A Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show is going to be opening up right around the corner from me. They’re going to have a new nightclub that Cirque du Soleil and the Light Group are going to be putting in, and other concepts. A lot of changes are happening at Mandalay, and I will be part of the grand announcement.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Rick Moonen answered the question: Rick Moonen

    What does Rick Moonen always have in his refrigerator?

    Every Monday, you’re going to find a packed refrigerator because my day off, which is Sunday, is when I cook like crazy. I love to cook like crazy. I start on Wednesday; I ramp up what I’m going to do on Sunday. I try to pick themes. Recently, I purchased a couple of pieces of meat that I bought at the supermarket that I had never seen before on the shelves. It was lamb shoulder and neck. It had a lot of meat on it, so I braised it. So that’s what you would find in my refrigerator right now — that with a celery root puree and some kale.

    After the Sunday meal, I will have the remaining food in my refrigerator for the rest of the week. Instead of calling them leftovers, they’re “planovers.” It’s always something that can last, reheat and be delicious.

    I’ve also got all kinds of spicy foods in there — chili paste with garlic, of course sriracha, Tabasco and different hot sauces. I have shrimp paste, Thai curry paste and all kinds of bases and flavors. My refrigerator will always have yogurt, butter and lots of vegetables, fruits and herbs.