There’s been a major shakeup in the kitchen of downtown favorite Carson Kitchen, with a favorite local chef leaving the kitchen, and a legendary family name returning to it.
Chef John Courtney has left Carson’s parent company Simon Hospitality Group (SHG). Courtney developed his local following at RM Seafood, Yardbird Southern Table, DB Brasserie and Marche Bacchus before taking the culinary director position at SHG.
As serious as that loss is to fans of both the chef and the restaurant, it’s tempered somewhat by the news that the new head chef is Scott Simon, brother of the restaurant’s late founder Kerry Simon.
All that either side will say about Courtney’s departure is that it’s amicable, and that he has other projects in the works, with all parties wishing the others well.
“For us to lose a chef of the talent level of John Courtney, we have to make sure that the right person is coming in to fill those shoes,” says SHG President Cory Harwell. “And I can think of nobody better than someone with the Simon name for taking Carson Kitchen not only to the next level, but also re-embracing where we’re from in the process.”
Scott Simon was a teen in the early ‘90s, when Kerry, a star chef in New York City, invited him to Miami to work in his kitchen. He followed his older brother to Las Vegas to work at Simon’s namesake restaurants at Hard Rock Hotel and Palms Place, as well as Cathouse in Luxor. Scott then ran the kitchen of the SHG restaurant Chuck’s in the Chicago Hard Rock Hotel, until last month’s closure of the restaurant as part of the rebranding of the hotel.
“I wasn’t sure exactly what my next move was,” Scott says. “But Carson Kitchen was always in my mind. And having the opportunity to work in a place that continues to have Kerry’s spirit involved in it, (of course) I’m going to want to be there and be a part of it.”
Courtney is weighing various options, including local consulting work, while he enjoys holiday time with his 3-month-old son and the rest of his family. He’s also working on a major overseas project, the details of which aren’t finalized. He also has offers of full-time kitchen work both here and outside Las Vegas.
Fans will likely be able to enjoy his recipes at Carson Kitchen for a long time. His latest creations appear on a winter menu that was rolled out less than a month ago.
As for any personal touches the new head chef may put on the menu, Harwell says the restaurant will continue with its winning formula of putting new spins on familiar dishes, or introducing unfamiliar dishes through familiar preparations. But for longtime fans of the Simon brand, it’s worth noting that Scott was with Kerry in Miami when he created what went on to become his signature dish: meatloaf. He’s seen that dish evolve over the years, and says there’s already been talk of creating a version for his new home.
SHG is also moving forward on an Asian restaurant called Alley Cat in the Huntridge neighborhood. “I envision seeing some hammers swinging, from a tenant’s perspective, sometime after Super Bowl, towards the beginning of March. And I see a summer opening,” Harwell says of that venture.