Vegas Chef profile: Kamel Guechida

Kamel Guechida talks about sweets not being too sweet, using quality ingredients and working for Joël Robuchon

Kamel Guechida (right) and his assistant working in the kitchen.

If you met the friendly, humble Kamel Guechida out of his highly starched white chef’s coat, you’d probably never know that he is the executive pastry chef for the opulent Joël Robuchon restaurant at MGM Grand, the only three Michelin star restaurant in Las Vegas, winner of the Forbes Five Star Award,  AAA Five Diamond Award and winner of numerous other accolades.

Guechida worked in Switzerland, Tokyo, Paris and Monte Carlo before opening Joël Robuchon and the neighboring L’Atelier Las Vegas in 2005. Since then, he has put Joël Robuchon and L’Atelier on the map with his incredible desserts and mignardises trolley.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Guechida about his desserts,

What inspires you to create your recipes?

I have a lot of experience now with Mr. Robuchon.  Since I came [to Vegas} in 2005, the recipes are  almost French recipes and a little bit of American recipes.  The people expect some flavors where they recognize all the products and we transfer that with French style and French recipes.

Our guests can find some products they knew before, but we try to bring another way and to give another flavor and presentation to the desserts.

I traveled a lot before and I bring those flavors to [Joel Robuchon Las Vegas.]

We’re changing the color of the dining room every season. That means for us, we get to experiment and change the flavors for every season.

How does the quality of ingredients affect the outcome of your desserts?

The ingredients are one of the most important things. You know, the desserts can be simple, but if you don’t have the correct strawberry, with the sugary natural flavor, your dessert could be bad.

We are, all the time, looking for the best quality we can find in the country. Now from California, we have the best berries such as blackberry and blueberries. Right now is the season for all the ripe fruit and we are so happy to work with these products. Until September, we have good berries that are organic and stronger in flavor.

Do you see any trends in the Vegas pastry arts scene currently?

The mignardises cart at Joël Robuchon.

You don’t see the same things in Robuchon that you see in other restaurants. The other way also, you don’t see the same product on plates for different restaurants.

For me, actually, I’m working a lot to give the desserts the presentation and the taste, but for me I’m fighting every day not to put any more sugar—there’s too much sugar [in desserts.] For me, the change is for people to eat two, three or four desserts. For me, that is the most important.

So many times the dessert is so sweet—and I don’t like it.

I was going to ask, do desserts always have to be sweet?

No, definitely no.

You know, it’s simple. If the dessert is sweet, not light, you don’t want to take another dessert.

The desserts at Joël Robuchon are always the perfect complement to the meal. How do you anticipate what the guest wants at the end of a big meal?

We try to work with the kitchen chefs all the time to match with the food before it’s served.

You need to have a pre-dessert to cleanse the palate and again, we come back to having something light.

We work together all the time so that guests have a good finale to the meal.

What is a popular dessert you make at Joël Robuchon?

Le Framboise is one of Guechida's more popular desserts.

Le Framboise. The dessert pops. You have the white chocolate square, the yuzu ice cream, white chocolate is sweet but yuzu ice cream is acidic and raspberry is acidic so all the time you have  a balance between sweet and acidic —people love it.

Between L’Atelier and Robuchon we are working and we are fighting for the same thing. People need to have dessert, but not sweet. We need to open the mind of the guests to ensure that dessert is not something big and with a lot of sugar.

How long does it take to make some of your more intricate desserts?

We prep all day, but for the execution, the dessert should not take more than five minutes. Of course, the soufflé takes more time. But generally, the desserts should not take more than three, four or five minutes.

How long does it take to perfect a recipe, or get it to the point where you can serve it?

We are lucky because we are changing every season. This means one month before, we start to think about which products are good that season, which products we think can work, which creation we want, which combination we want together and which products you want to serve. So one month for that.

One month and we change nine desserts and the food, desserts, presentation and decoration.

How many trial runs do you do before you get it to the point where you can serve it?

It depends but sometimes four or five times. Of course, you want to be perfect the first service. But, you know what? After one or two or three days after the people taste the new dessert, we need to, again, adapt or change a little bit.  Maybe the portion is too big or the portion is too small.

The first thing you do is [meet with] the general manager or the captain of the restaurant and we have to talk with them. We have great communication for the first couple of days to be sure the people like it. And of course, we may need to change something again to make sure the dessert is perfect.

Why is dessert an important part of the meal?

It’s the end of the meal. That is the most important. You’ll remember, every time, the last thing you ate at a restaurant.

If you go into the restaurant, the last stop is us. With Robuchon, we have the trolley of petit fours. The lesson is, the last thing is the dessert and if you finish with a bad experience, then it will be difficult. So the dessert is a big part of the meal and the big part of your experience during the night.

What is your favorite dessert to eat?

For me, it’s the soufflé. A good soufflé is, for the restaurant’s pastry chef, technically  very difficult to execute. It’s also good traditional French dessert.

Do you think pastry chefs get enough recognition in the industry?

I think no… It’s true, all the time the pastry chef is a little bit behind. But, you can see in the next five or six years, a lot of things change. A lot of things will improve and there will be a lot of opportunity for [pastry] chefs—but I want to say not yet.

Also in a restaurant, it’s difficult to advertise the pastry chef. In a shop, yes, but in a restaurant it’s a little bit more difficult, I think.

How do you think the pastry arts talent in Vegas compares to the pastry arts talent in France?

I think we have an extremely high level in the U.S. I’m very impressed, the quality we have in Vegas and also in the U.S., the level is high.

What’s it like working with Chef Robuchon and the team at the restaurant in MGM Grand?

Le Cafee, one of Guechida's creations.

You know, Mr. Robuchon is coming [to Vegas] only three or four times a year. I had a chance to work with him before and to travel with him.

It’s so interesting when he comes back to Vegas because he brings experience from other countries, brings ideas and he’s trying all the time to raise the bar and increase the quality.

When he comes back [to Vegas] he knows if something has changed a little bit. Because when you’re in the restaurant all the time working, sometimes a couple details change. So it’s great when he’s coming back because he lets you know right away that detail has changed and you have to check and be careful with that.

It’s a pleasure working with him because all the time he puts a challenge on you and you have to be able to respond.

Where do you see Joel Robuchon Las Vegas in three years?

Good question, I don’t know. Because I tell you we go out every time to improve. I think we can follow up and go up again another level.

Anything else?

For us, from seven years ago to now, we aim to maintain the quality and meet expectations at a higher level for our guests.