LAS VEGAS – What does it take to bring authentic street food 9,000 miles from street vendors in Southeast Asia to a new resort on the Strip?
A kitchen with a laptop, webcam and eager cooks.
It’s happening behind the scenes at Resort World Las Vegas, where the hotel-casino prepares for the launch of Famous Street Eats – a 24,000-square-foot grocery store serving dishes from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and beyond.
In normal times, street vendors in Southeast Asia would have boarded a plane and flown here to teach the Vegas chefs the secrets of perfecting the dishes.
COVID-19 made this type of trip impossible, but the resort’s opening on June 24th harnessed the power of technology to carry all of the culinary expertise to the Nevada desert.
Resorts World found the dishes overseas and transported them here.
A search for street food
According to Andrew Li, CEO of Zouk Group, the Singapore company behind the concept, the idea of driving Famous Street Eats is simple: go to the source.
“Asia has all these amazing food cultures,” said Li, “and they come from these mom and pop shops. They’re not in hotels, they’re not in malls. You’re on the back streets and have been perfecting these recipes for decades. “
Resorts World’s hawker recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. Some of the chefs behind these dishes have been making them for more than five decades.
Famous street eats will be a place where tourists and foodies find dishes they can’t find anywhere else and that are prepared using techniques they have never heard of, Li said.
One of the dishes from Singapore is called Char Kuey Teow, rice and egg noodles fried with fresh seafood on a charcoal oven to create a smoky aroma called “Wok Hei” – or “Dragon Breath”.
The man behind this street vendors court is Chef Ah Guan. Because he wears goggles while cooking to protect his eyes from hot oil, he is known as the “Googgle Man”.
“The fire you need to cook this noodle is so hot,” said Li. “You want it to be so hot that you can almost taste the burn – that char flavor of the noodle. Such things will be very interesting to educate people about the story and share it. “
But how do chefs like Googgle Man teach Las Vegas chefs how to cook dishes?
Each week, Famous Foods Chef Kevin Hee takes a video lesson along with two assistants. His teachers are 14,000 kilometers away in different parts of Southeast Asia.
Hee is learning the street food alchemy of the menu, which is coming soon to The Strip. Each lesson starts with a recipe.
“We’ll try ourselves first until we feel like we’re at a level we’re not ashamed to show the owner,” said Hee. “Once we get to that level, we’ll set up a video call and play back the dish we’re making.”
Hee is now working on Roti Canai. The flatbread comes from Springleaf Prata Place, a family-style shop in Singapore that serves South Indian cuisine. Roti Canai is difficult to prepare because the dough has to be stretched so thin that it is almost transparent.
In fact, it’s so difficult that Hee and his team are now in a second round of class.
During the video classes, Las Vegas chefs walk through every step of the process of making dough for Roti Canai. In the meantime, the owner watches and gives tips and tricks.
When they’re done playing Roti Canai, the owner’s team will show them how to do it.
“They show us what corrections we can make while we turn the dough over,” said Hee, “and it’s a back and forth from there.”
There weren’t many language barriers as almost every street vendor speaks English and Hee’s team speaks Mandarin or Cantonese.
When the owners approve how each dish looks, the plate must pass a taste test.
“We have several executives who have lived in Southeast Asia and are familiar with the flavor profiles,” said Hee. “We let them try the dishes to see if the flavor profiles fit.”
Once each dish has one final blessing, Hee and his team will be teaching a larger team of chefs how to cook the menus at Famous Street Eats.
Along the way, he learned techniques that made his own kitchen game better.
“Just getting the dough not to stick to the pot itself requires a lot of technology. That was the hardest to master, ”said Hee of the Roti Canai. “I’m just happy to learn new things.”