My mouth had been watering all day from the thought of my trip to the kitchen of Tapas by Alex Stratta. I was so excited to get to tour the kitchen of a celebrity chef that, upon on my arrival, I took an abundant amount of selfies which made the hostesses in the front of the house chuckle. I didn’t care, I came determined with two purposes, to consume and to publish. General Manager Madalena was hosting and took my name. She introduced herself and went to go get Chef Nate. My excitement continued to ensue.
Chef Alex Stratta is a two Michelin-starred, James Beard award-winning chef and his name has become synonymous with quality ingredients, innovative preparation and outstanding service. But it takes more than one person to operate a restaurant and Stratta has assembled a top-notch team to keep Tapas running at the level he is known for. This group of people is who I went to see and learn what they do.
Chef Nathan Gerard is a rising star in the industry and has worked by Stratta’s side since ‘01. He knows his way around the kitchen and more importantly, knows how to delegate work. In a more personal respect, he is a down-to-earth guy and cares about his customer’s experience.
Chef Nate greeted me at the entrance of Tapas with a firm handshake and a warm smile. He was well aware that I had a tour but seemed to be distracted. Any cook can tell that he was still in his culinary mindset, thinking of creating flavors for dishes rather than words for conversation. Nonetheless, Nate snapped out of his mode and was excited to show me his kitchen. He quickly escorted me through the swinging doors and into the world to which he takes pride in.
A hallway sized kitchen is home to Alex Stratta’s culinary masterminds. Nate introduced me to every station and the cooks fierce on the line and described the dishes they were creating. It was an experience witnessing the productive line in action.
We started on the end closest to the front of the house where I met Grace, the garde manger. Grace’s station is tucked in one corner of the kitchen surrounded by reach-ins. She prepares cheese and salad dishes which are usually the first to reach the customer, so special attention is paid to plating and presentation.
To Grace’s left, is the fry and saute station. Adam and Leah work together to take charge of their stations, delivering dishes from calamari and coquettes to bacon-wrapped dates and stuffed squash blossoms.
Going further down the line, I was introduced to grill-cook Desmond, who is responsible for most fish, poultry and meat dishes. I actually caught Desmond garnishing a curried lamb dish that I had to snap a pic of once it hit the warmer.
My gaze at the plated lamb was broken once Nate said, “paella”. Unfamiliar with the term, I asked for an explanation. Instead of telling me, Nate showed me the burners on what looked like a stove top. He explained that these burners are massive compared to regular stove tops. The 18” burners are needed to create large flames that allow for quick searing of foods. Valenciana and other traditional Spanish dishes are created in paella pans and I couldn’t help but think of a wok and how similar both are in function.
Steve was the man taming the beast of a burner. Busy helping his neighbor on grill, Steve was unavailable for a handshake. I was impressed by the teamwork between the various stations.
Janis is the last of culinary artists tucked away on an end corner of the kitchen. She creates savory desserts in-house with an emphasis placed on pastries. Chef Nate raved about Janis’s crepes that are freshly cooked and filled with a homemade creme brulee custard.
I commented how extravagantly delicious the desserts sounded and how meticulous cooks must be with such creations. Chef Nate agreed and said try this.
He asked Janis to show me the jelly sangria freshly made for dessert toppings. Tapas takes their toppings to the next level by brewing a special sangria made with extra spice. I tried a red jello square and was quickly overwhelmed with flavor. It was definitely a sangria jelly.
I was lastly shown Chef Nate’s command post. Strategically stationed in front of the food warmer, Chef Nate is able to approve or re-fire any meals before they are run to customers.
My tour was quickly over once Adam asked for Chef’s check on a Moroccan Chicken order. There was no hesitation, Nate jumped behind the line and aided to his cooks in need. This is the quality of a good chef. One that doesn’t leave a fellow cook behind and isn’t scared to get his hands dirty in some squid.
Chef Nate is an exceptional leader and takes charge of his culinary brigade. He knows his dishes and he knows his cooks. A peaceful, but diligent work ethic can be seen down his line. I felt a real connection between staff and management. Staff is knowledgeable of food and management is knowledgeable of stations. Both work harmoniously to deliver a quality product in efficient time that can surpass any Tapas restaurants in Vegas.
Chef Stratta, with Nate, and the rest of crew behind him, show it truly takes a village to run a restaurant and every position is important in providing an exemplary experience to the guest.