Home-Grown Hilo Boy Hits it Big at Bellagio
“Go to school, and get a strong foundation. Work lots of jobs and find a good mentor.”
Those were the sound words of advice for future chefs from Chef Royden Ellamar, a “local boy” who has hit the big time. Ellamar is now the Chef at Harvest by Roy Ellamar at Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Ellamar knows of which he speaks, having worked hard and paid his kitchen dues.
Asked to describe Harvest, Ellamar said, “We call it farm to table, as seen through a Vegas lens. It has the ambiance that you would expect from a Las Vegas attraction.”
Not only is the food beautiful to look at, but Ellamar aims to “…meet the health-conscious demands of today’s travelers and diners, while simultaneously delivering fresh, creative dishes that are full of flavor.”
I asked Ellamar to tell me more about the path he has journeyed to become the Chef of a major Las Vegas restaurant. He has been in Las Vegas since 2007 and with Bellagio for six years. “Opportunities happen because of hard work and sacrifices,” he said. “You have to work hard, be consistent in execution, and create a cuisine that resonates.”
And resonate it does. Customers are appreciating seeing where their food actually comes from (“Rutiz Farms Charred Brussels Sprouts” or “Lamb Shanks” from Superior Farms, Calif.; a “12-hour Smoked Beef Brisket” hails from Painted Hills, Ore.) In an era where diners want to know that their food was grown responsibly, sustainably, and supports small farms, Ellamar nails it.
Although he is now captain of the ship, Ellamar isn’t resting on his laurels. His typical day begins at about 10:00 a.m., and he doesn’t leave Harvest until around midnight. His theory is that “we are going to put in the time now, and we will enjoy the rewards, later.” Ever humble, he credits his team, taking no accolades for himself.
Because he is now a “local boy” success story, Ellamar and I talked a little about Hilo’s aging population and culture – and how that can make it difficult for young people to leave their parents to work on the mainland. He is himself a graduate of Hawai’i Community College’s Culinary Arts program, which has been turning out some world-class chefs. Ellamar well understands the quandary of career and family. Even if young chefs choose to stay on-island, he recommends getting an education, and finding the “right” restaurants and chefs to work for. “You need to find a good mentor and people you can work with for 12 hours a day,” he said.
I had to laugh at Ellamar when I asked him what foods he misses from Hilo – and if he could, what food he would import to ‘Vegas. He quickly answered “Papayas,” and then went on to tell me how when he visits, his father goes to the farmer’s market and buys from his favorite vendor. Before I could get to the next question, he said, “Wait. Mangoes. Oh, and opihi. And warabi.” I sensed we could have spent a lot of time on that subject.
Ellamar loves it when Hilo folks visit Harvest, and in fact, he rattled off several names of folks who had been in recently. He said “They like all kinds of items on the menu…and poke on the snack wagon.”
While he does enjoy living in Las Vegas, he admitted that he does miss the ocean.
Visiting Las Vegas? Chef Ellamar asked Hilo folks to stop in to say hello. Enjoy a great meal!
Harvest is located inside the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, 3600 Las Vegas Boulevard. Open Monday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. For reservations, call 866.259.7111. Attire: Business Casual.