Chef has passion for organic food


Do you ever wonder what makes a fancy restaurant so special?

It’s the ingredients, for one thing. If you eat salmon at Bellagio’s Sensi restaurant, that fish has traveled to you all the way from an Indian bay of bears and bald eagles off the coast of Vancouver Island.

Last summer, Chef Roy Ellamar visited the British Columbia fish farm to make sure Sensi’s salmon was indeed being raised right. It was.

The farm is on the ocean. Fishermen live there for five days, then go away for four days. Ellamar looked around in wonder.

“There was a huge bald eagle nest right there. And the eagle was just chilling. It sits in a tree, watching the salmon all day long, trying to figure out how he’s going to pick one out.

“But they have these nets over the salmon. Sometimes, the eagle will come down and perch itself right on the edge of the net, looking at the fish, thinking, ‘One of these days ... ’ ”

Ellamar is one of the chefs hosting this week’s Uncork’d food fest.

If you go to Sensi’s Uncork’d happy hour at 2 p.m. Friday, you will get that ocean-farmed salmon plus cocktails.

The Sensi chef frequents all the farms where Sensi gets its grass-fed cows and organic vegetables because he is dedicated to cooking ingredients that are organic and sustainable, whose farming doesn’t hurt the environment.

Ellamar goes to local farms as much as he can, getting squash and tomatoes from a guy in Pahrump; lettuce, herbs, eggplants and tomatoes from a guy in Sandy Valley; and so on.

He checks the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to not buy overfished fish or fish from bad fisheries.

And like other chefs, he receives crazy photo text messages from fishermen at all hours.

“There’s this guy Jimmy from Gulf Fish in Louisiana. He sends pictures all the time of fish — ‘Look at this snapper, first one who sends me an order gets it!’ ”

His dedication to sustainable, delicious food has paid off. Ellamar, 38, was victorious over other Vegas chefs on the Food Network’s reality-competition show “Chopped.”

He moved to Vegas in 2007 to cook at MGM’s L’atelier de Joel Robuchon (“the chef of the century”).

When he got here, Ellamar actually wasn’t sure he wanted to stay in food.

“I came to Vegas and thought, ‘Man, maybe I’m gonna try to be a bartender,’ ” he says. “You know how we go through those cycles of doubt.”

Instead, Robuchon reignited his passion.

“And I found out how hard it is to be a bartender and get into one of these (Strip hotel) spots!”

So now, Ellamar and Robuchon will both be at Uncork’d. Most events are sold out for Thursday-Sunday, such as master dinners with Robuchon, Gordon Ramsay and Bobby Flay.

But more than a dozen events are still available, including the Grand Tasting Friday at Caesars Palace ($225) and master dinner with chefs Michel Richard ($160) and Mary Sue Milliken ($195). For more, check out vegasuncorked.com.

And Ellamar will be a featured chef.

Not bad for a guy who started in the food business earning $3.25 an hour as a teen busser in a pancake house in his native Hawaii.

“It was sticky,” he says of his pancake roots. “Lots of maple syrup and coconut syrup. That stuff is like glue on the table.”

SIGHTINGS

Diana DeGarmo of “American Idol” posed with Chippendales Jaymes Vaughan and James Davis of “The Amazing Race.” ... NFL great Charles Woodson took a load off at La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway on Sunday, lounging with a guest.

Doug Elfman’s column appears Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He also writes for Neon on Fridays. Email him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.