Whether you’re taking laps around our Buffet, or sitting down to enjoy a steak at Fiore, you’re enjoying the hard work of our Executive Chef Israel Ortiz. Since accepting this position in February, Ortiz has been working closely with our entire food and beverage team to ensure every meal is authentic and delicious.
“I’m a stickler for authenticity,” Ortiz says of his cooking style. “If I’m going to make something and I say it’s Korean, it’s Korean. It’s not American. It’s not odd ingredients that’re not Korean. Our pizza’s a good example in the Buffet. It’s Sicilian pizza. We make our own sauce from scratch, use fresh ingredients and a Sicilian style dough that we’ve developed that’s great.”
Chef Ortiz has been part of the exceptional culinary team here at Harrah’s Resort SoCal for just over two years. His first position was as the Buffet chef. He soon he took the position of executive souse chef that allowed him to work specifically at the Buffet and Fiore assisting our former executive chef. A graduate of the prestigious Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona, Chef came to us six years ago after working in a casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The transition from New Mexico to California presented Chef Ortiz with some interesting changes, none of which effected his cooking. “I never have had trouble adapting to cuisines,” he says. “I consider myself a very good cook and I continue to practice all the time, learning new techniques. If I have an idea I’ll drop what I’m doing here [in his office], head to the kitchen and put it together and see how it works. If it’s something we can implement here then we do it.”
While he doesn’t get behind the stove as often as he would like, as executive chef his influence can be seen in other ways. He works directly with all of our cooking staff to help implement menus, ensure we have the freshest ingredients and offers guidance and expertise to help teammates to grow.
For inspiration and fresh new ways to improve our guests’ experiences, Chef Ortiz goes out of his way to build relationships with every teammate. “I get to know them on a somewhat personal level. If they have families. Know their culture. If they live in town. Their work habits. I ask them about their strengths and what they do well, what they want to work on. And from there I guide them and give them new opportunities outside of where they’re from and directing them to where they might be a good fit.”
He also takes his time to meet and greet guests to get direct feedback, something that he feels really sets Harrah’s Resort SoCal apart.
One of the biggest changes Chef Ortiz and team have implemented is bringing more Filipino dishes to the Buffet. “We have a big Filipino crowd so right now you can go out there and find about four options. We have some great Filipino cooks here and they’ve helped us implement those menu items.” On deck this month, a brand new Filipino-inspired gelato flavor that you’ll absolutely have to taste for yourself.
When he’s home, Chef Ortiz loves to cook his specialty—Korean food. “It’s so easy and it’s healthy and there’re so many options when it comes to what you can eat.” In fact, his Korean cooking is so authentic he’s had guests tell him its “better than their grandmother made.” To this he says: “Don’t tell her that!”
And even Chef Ortiz has recipes he loves to eat but hates to cook. “Short ribs,” he says. “I love braised meats but I hate waiting eight hours to cook them.”
For all of us home cooks looking for some professional advice, Chef Ortiz encourages us to try new things. “Don’t be afraid to cook anything,” he says. “Chefs fail all the time, you just don’t see it. Even if it's an idea that you see somewhere ask yourself how you can a make it my own.” Persistence with a side of patience and an emphasis on quality ingredients is Chef Ortiz’s recipe for success.