Twenty-five years ago, no one would have predicted that Vegas, with its decidedly non-gourmet buffets and mediocre steakhouses, would become the celebrity chef capital of the galaxy. Nowadays, if you're a restaurateur and you want to become more famous (or richer, or score a book deal and a TV show), Vegas is the place to be. Here's a timeline of celebrity chef successes in Vegas.
1992: Wolfgang Puck
Storming into Sin City with a branch of his landmark Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, Wolfgang Puck was surrounded by doubters -- everyone warned him against the move, insisting no one goes to Vegas for the food. Clearly, Puck had the last laugh. He is now among the world's most successful chefs, starting a trend of celebrity chefs in Vegas that continues to grow. Puck's Vegas empire now includes six restaurants; his most recent is the family-friendly Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill.
1995: Emeril Lagasse
With a "bam!" chef Emeril Lagasse followed in Puck's footsteps, bringing his fresh Louisiana-style fare to the MGM Grand at Emeril's New Orleans Fish House. Another pioneer who helped craft the Las Vegas dining landscape, Lagasse's culinary kingdom now includes four independent and eclectic eateries -- from his take on the American steakhouse to a sports book, restaurant and entertainment club and a hip casual spot.
1998: Julian Serrano
James Beard Award-winning and Michelin-decorated Spaniard Julian Serrano brought his memorable Mediterranean-French cooking to Picasso at Bellagio when it opened in 1998. Now a Vegas classic, Picasso was followed by his eponymous (and less pricey) tapas restaurant at Aria. In 2015, Serrano will open Lago at Bellagio, a cutting-edge Italian eatery with a small plate menu, a sophisticated mixology program and a spectacular view of the resort's iconic fountains.
2004: Bobby Flay
When it comes to food, he's done it all -- from cookbooks to his own line of signature spices, sauces, dishes and cookware. Bobby Flay became a Vegas fixture when he opened a branch of his super-successful Mesa Grill in Vegas' Caesars Palace back in 2004. This year, Flay opened the 18th Bobby's Burger Palace and his first in Vegas at the Shops at Crystals. It's also the largest at 3,500 square feet and has a Vegas-style twist: a margarita to-go bar. The cocktails are a perfect accompaniment to BBP's famous potato-chips-on-top "crunchified" burgers.
2008: Kerry Simon
The Iron Chef winner is known as "the rock 'n' roll chef" for the many music superstars who hired him to cater their tours and hung out in his restaurants between shows. Kerry Simon first came to Vegas to partner at Prime at Bellagio in the early 2000s. In 2008 he opened Simon at Palms Place, and in June 2014 came his latest -- Carson Kitchen, a funky gastro-lounge with a shared-plate menu featuring French flavors that pay tribute to mentor Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
2014: Giada De Laurentiis
The newest star in town, Emmy Award-winning Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis made her restaurant debut in June with Giada at The Cromwell. There is little doubt whose place it is. "Giada" is everywhere, from the pictures on the wall to the signatures on the plates. The cuisine combines Italian fare with Californian influences and includes signature dishes made famous through De Laurentiis' many cookbooks and Food Network television shows. And yes, that celebrity smile does, in fact, make the food taste better.
-Andrea Kahn, Brand Publishing Writer