For nationally-acclaimed Chef David Walzog, being successful is all about having a good time. "You have to love throwing that party, not every Sunday, not every other Sunday, but every single night in a restaurant."
The in-demand chef and author of "The New American Steakhouse Cookbook," executive chef at SW Steakhouse in Las Vegas and soon to open Lakeside Grill (both at Wynn Las Vegas), definitely knows how to throw a party.
Known for his killer grilling techniques and innovative approach to steakhouse cuisine, Walzog's philosophy is to make the restaurant experience a positive one not only for the guest, but also for his team of kitchen crew and waitstaff. "It's not just a plate of food that comes before a guest," he said. "It's the spirit of the room, the energy of the room, it's the upbeat tempo of dining. It's the fun that people are having."
It certainly helps that the restaurant is located in a town known for having a good time. "You're just feeding that frenzy, that fun time, those good times for them," he said. "So you're buying fantastic ingredients, the best of the best, the rarest of the rare and putting it on a plate. People are there to have great experiences, wonderful hospitality, and a great time, so it makes our job very, very exciting."
It seems that Walzog has always been able to bring a fun and enthusiastic attitude into cooking. "I've been cooking for 28 years and having fun every single day," he said.
As a teenager, the Baltimore native worked restaurants in the summertime to pay the bills. It was there he discovered the team environment really appealed to him. "I likened it to an athletic team," he said. "I really just kind of liked the spirit and camaraderie of being in a kitchen, and food and ingredients and that stuff. So I definitely took a liking to those and the team part of it."
He tried a few years of college in Baltimore, focusing on marketing, but he continued to cook on the side and eventually completed some courses at culinary school. "I liked cooking. It kind of takes a hold of you and you want to be there more, and you want to do more, and you want to learn more, and when you're young, if it speaks to you, you've got to get in on it."
His interest in cooking grew even more when he moved to New York, living cheaply with a friend in a rent-controlled apartment he obtained through his sister. "We were able to eat when Jean-Georges was first at the Drake Hotel and all around at Le Cirque, wherever else, and could somewhat afford it," he recalled. "We were line cooks and just riding our bike everywhere and having a good old time in the city. That's how it began," he said.
Walzog moved to New York City to begin his career in cuisine at Lola restaurant. After Lola, he moved on to a coveted position working under Gotham Bar and Grill's legendary chef, Alfred Portale, whom he said had a major influence on him. "Watching how he mentored and coached and counseled and drove us to work really hard, and to never lower the bar," Walzog said, adding that it didn't matter the number of people they were serving, Portale's dedication was obvious, and that enthusiasm was contagious. "Whatever it was, we were so absolutely dedicated to everything he wanted and wanted to do," Walzog said.
Portale's continual coaching was instrumental in shaping him and the other younger chefs. "That was a great dynamic to learn and kind of understand at that point in my career that worked really well," he said.