Steppin’ Out – Robert Rosson, Executive Chef at Red Hawk Casino – Part 1

If you watch any of the myriad of competition cooking shows on televison, it appears that everyone wants to be an executive chef at a restaurant. After all, big bucks and prestige is what they are after and they seem to gloss over the fact that being in charge is a lot of work.

Robert Rosson, the Executive Chef at Red Hawk Casino knows what it is like and he is in charge of not one or two restaurants, but seven, almost all of which are multiple award winners.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to tour the kitchens and restaurants at Red Hawk with Chef Rosson and it was an amazing experience.

I met him at the security desk, where they asked me lots of questions and took my picture before handing me clip-on pass in exchange for my driver’s license.

He was regal and dressed in his chef’s jacket, complete with his name and title embroidered on it. He also had an interesting pin, about which I will get into later.

He has been at Red Hawk for five years and previously about the same amount of time at Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino near Fresno. Prior to that, 12 years in the U.S. Navy, cooking on aircraft carriers. Seems to me he has more than enough experience to prepare food for large numbers of people at one time.

Our first stop on my tour was a restaurant you probably don’t know about, the Employees Dining Room.

The 1400 or so employees get one pass through the “hot line” per shift, during their “lunch” break. The day I was there it was Mexican style food with lots of choices, including vegetarian options, etc. But, that’s not all. During their two breaks a day they can enjoy a hot dog, fresh fruit, coffee drinks and a lot more. Yes, new employees do tend to gain weight.

Back into the corridor, we proceeded a distance and then stopped at a door where Chef Rosson asked me if I knew that had their own butcher shop, adding, “Not many restaurants have them, but we do.

“This is where we cut and grind our meat and, over here in the corner, is the locker where we dry age prime beef for Henry’s Steakhouse, before cutting it into steaks,” he said as we entered the room. I was impressed.

Back in the hallway, I followed him around a couple of corners and asked him if he ever go lost in the long halls with many turns.
“I worked on our biggest aircraft carriers,” he reminded me with a smile, “this is nothing.”

In a few seconds he stopped and opened the doors to a room full of lettuce and other vegetables. “This is where they prepare all the salads and cold dishes for the restaurants, along with carving and slicing fresh vegetables,” he said. “The French call the room and the person who prepares them, the Garde Manger. Normally they would also do ice carvings, but I do those myself in the freezer.

A short distance later he opened the door to their bakery. “All our fancy breads and pastries are made here. The racks you see filled with pastries are for a “by invitation” dinner we are having for our club members tonight. We have wonderful Executive Pastry Chef named Anna Dominguez who makes sure everything is beautiful and delicious.

“This is our biggest kitchen,” he said as we continued our adventure and he opened the door into the Waterfall Buffet kitchen. “Watch your step, the floor could be wet or greasy.”

I took heed of the warning, but every place we had visited and would visit was spotless and it was a busy. I had to ask, “How do you do it?”
“We have a crew of Stewards who wash the dishes and keep the place clean,” he said, “and every night we have a Night Cleaning Crew that comes in and cleans everything. It has to be clean and it is.”

In charge of the buffet kitchen is Executive Sous Chef Matt Luther, a name I said I was familiar with. “He used to have The Purple Place,” said Chef Rosson, and now is in charge of 35 cooks and six chefs.

“These are our new, computerized ovens,” he continued, as we stopped in front of tall cabinets. All those pre-seasoned ribs on that rack next to it will go in there, we will program it and they will come out perfect. It will bake, steam or whatever we want it to do. For the ribs it’s bake and steam at the same time so they come out moist and delicious. It will even poach and egg in the shell.

As we walked out of the kitchen into the buffet area, Chef Rosson mentioned that they have as many as 210 different items, on a menu that changes seasonally if not more often.

While in the buffet area he stopped to show me that he has been training the staff how to make some of the dishes and presentations more visually attractive with fruit carvings and other designs.

“People eat with their eyes,” he said to me, a term I have heard over and over before. “Food that looks good, tastes good.

“We feed about 2500 people here a day, more on weekends when we add to our dinner menu and have our famous Sunday Brunch.


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