Chef adds more to his plate with unification of properties


Bruce Knapik wears many hats at work, but all of them are chef's hats and represent the eateries of the JW Marriott and Rampart Casino at The Resort at Summerlin properties.

A Canadian company, Hotspur Resorts Limited, owns the properties and this spring began rearranging operations to unify them, which means Knapik's workload as executive chef increased. He was not fazed.

"I love the variety and the pace involved - the bigger, the busier, the better for me," he said.

Besides the restaurants ---- Ceres, J.C. Wooloughan's Irish Pub, 221, the Carmel Room, Shizen, the Rampart Buffet, the Promenade Café and the Waterside Café ---- there are also the banquet events, Starbucks, room service for the 540-plus rooms and the employee dining room.

All told, Knapik has about 200 employees. Nearly all of his time is spent supervising, and he seldom gets a chance to cook. He does, however, taste test dishes for menu development or when a cook is applying for another position.

He said he enjoys seeing how the chefs handle their menus and planning.

"They need to run their rooms completely," he said. "They make the schedule, but I approve it. They order the food, but I make sure the financial numbers are correct. They buy the food, but I make sure it's right for the outlet."

Therese Sam, JW Marriott marketing and public relations coordinator, said of Knapik, "He's been awesome, not just for the restaurants, but we do have a lot of big group business. He puts together all kinds of (banquet packages), really, whatever they want, for every event that we have. He does all our weddings and social parties and functions. He does good things. I have to say that I'm a vegetarian, and he always has a vegetarian option."

Since April, changes due to the acquisition of the new casino food and beverage outlets have been keeping Knapik busy. The change includes going through each restaurant to bring it in line with the new vision. The buffet and the Promenade Café needed a lot of attention. The buffet took more time than he expected. He was just starting to tackle the Carmel Room this month.

An outlet that has been a challenge is the employee dining room. After the buffet, which serves 1,100 meals a day, it is the property's busiest eatery.

"It takes a brigade unto itself," he said.

The Marriott Corp., he said, gives "tons of leeway to create whatever menus you need to create. But you have to do it based on all the right decisions. They have to be good business decisions. ... They give us guidelines, and we have standards ... some things are more important than others, but (when it comes to) creativity, we get to do what we want."

A slow work week for Knapik is 55 hours. It's not unusual to go weeks without days off. He learned about long hours early in his career. In 1988 and 1992, he competed in the World Culinary Olympics, which pits chefs from around the world against each other. He represented his homeland with the Canadian team.

"It's a pretty manic schedule," he said. "The first competition I went to, I think I worked 50 hours without sleep, nonstop. Because you work around the clock. You have to have all your food on the table by 7 a.m., so everything backs up from there."

Another type of judging began as soon as the team got off the plane in Germany. Customs confiscated some of the ingredients it deemed suspect.

Customs officials "crack open all your crates," he said. "Some things they'd take, some things they don't. That's just kind of how it is. ... Some countries weren't allowed to bring anything in. They had to buy it all when they got there."

He and his team learned to work around the custom agents' guidelines with a little friendly bartering.

"We gave them all our Canadian beer, and they gave us all the stuff they'd taken away from us," he said. "But they held everything in customs for, like, 28 hours, so that put us a full day behind."

Knapik competed in team and individual events, winning gold and silver medals.

Arzu Delp, director of resort experience for the JW Marriott, said it was exciting to have an executive chef who had competed in the Culinary Olympics.

"This property, we're only as good as our entire team," she said. "And to have someone of that caliber on property is just, it's like the cherry on top of the sundae. He's really helped elevate all of our food and beverage experience throughout the property."

The new vision for the property involves more than the food and beverage outlets. The possibility of a sports book and bingo hall are being considered, Knapik said, along with renovation and expansion of the cafe and buffet.

The long hours leave little time at home for Knapik and his wife, Nicki. The couple have two sons, Garret, 21, and Kyle, 25.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 387-2949.

 

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