Actor Ben Stiller loves the lobster.
Professional football player Tim Tebow loves the mac and cheese.
Barry Dakake is the executive chef at N9NE Steakhouse at the Palms, 4321 W. Flamingo Road. For a decade, the North Las Vegas resident has wooed the tastebuds of celebrities, athletes and locals alike.
A brief tour of the kitchen shows how well Dakake knows his business. He gives handshakes and hugs to all of the employees, and he calls them out by name as they prepare for the customers that evening.
He credits the hard work of his staff from the dishwashers all the way up to management.
"I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them," he said.
The door to his broom closet-sized office, known as "The Shakedown Room," is covered in signatures from his celebrity friends.
Sharpie scribbles from professional basketball players Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce, Run DMC frontman Rev. Run, actor Ben Affleck, singer Rihanna and rapper Drake are forever inked on the entrance.
It’s filled to the ceiling with boxes of autographed footballs, hockey sticks, baseball bats and pennants from superstars such as New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, hockey Hall of Famer Gordie "Mr. Hockey" Howe and former Cincinnati Red Pete Rose, just to name a few.
Dakake chomps on a handful of chocolate. The 40-year-old hasn’t had time to eat anything all day.
"I’m not supposed to have this," he said with a smirk .
Donning his bright white chef coat, Dakake talks about how he climbed the ladder to become the face of the restaurant and the struggle to stay on top of his game.
"Because of the recession and everything that’s going on, and there’s so much competition in the city, you have to constantly reinvent the wheel," Dakake said. "We give our customers sustainable food because we care about how we treat the earth."
The menu changes every day. There is wild fish, farm raised organic veal and ribeye.
"The animals are treated with respect," Dakake said. "I’m an animal lover. It’s important to me."
Even after all of these years of being in Las Vegas, the Johnson, R.I., native’s jersey accent shines through — turning words like "market" into "maaahkit." He shares his hometown with Jersey Shore’s Pauly D., who is now a resident DJ at the Palms.
"You’ve got to build relationships with people because it’s important they keep coming back," Dakake said. "You show them respect. Yeah, you’ve got the celebrities, but I treat locals like they’re rock stars, too."
The chef wants his restaurant to be a sanctuary where everyone — regardless of tabloid status — feels comfortable. Dakake frequently visits Los Angeles to study popular restaurant trends. Paparazzi swarm celebrities there, but not in his steakhouse. He won’t allow them inside.
His humbleness is a rarity with the success he has enjoyed. He talks about his home near the mountains in Aliante and nature’s sounds he hears daily: the howl of a coyote and the chirping of birds. It’s how he escapes from the hustle and bustle near the Strip.
As Dakake tells stories of scrubbing restaurant booths with a toothbrush and the joy of dropping his first basket of potatoes to be fried into french fries, it’s clear he remembers where he came from.
He prioritizes his strong Christian faith. Dakake survived a battle with Hodgkin’s disease more than a decade ago, and he recently beat a viral tumor in his spinal cord that temporarily paralyzed him from the waist down.
"You can only deal with the cards that God dealt to you, so you take the worst cards and make the best hand possible," he said. "You’ve gotta bluff every once in a while. That faith in Christ made me stronger and gave me that extra kick. I don’t regret it at all."
Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 383-0492.