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Kitchen Conversations: Chef Anthony Vidal of Hash House A Go Go

Chef Anthony Vidal hash house a go go - kitchen ConversationsChef Anthony Vidal is the Executive Corporate Chef of Hash House A Go Go–a swanky, casual, hip dining establishment known for its awe-inspiring, visually-pleasing, oversized portions. The restaurant has been featured on the Martha Stewart Show, The Travel Channel, The Rachel Ray Show and Unique Eats among others. The restaurant has been steadily growing from its initial roots in San Diego, California to 8 locations across the country. Chef Anthony has been instrumental in opening all of these locations but now oversees the one on The Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Q: Tell us about your background and what inspired you to start cooking?

I’m from the Bronx in New York City. I was born in ’67 in poverty and welfare. I was raised by a single mom, and she always worked. So in order to cook I had to look in cupboards when I was hungry.

I had an older brother who was into the drug thing, and I had a sister who was younger who was dating gang members. It was kind of hard for me. I always could have followed their paths but I just didn’t want to go that path. I always thought I could be better.

Q: What inspired you to become a chef – did that build from a sense of necessity?

It was mainly because of my cousins. They weren’t rich, but they had money because they worked at Wall Street and they had a house that was in Staten Island on the beach. I always wanted to go over there, so I offered my services: “I’ll clean, cook, BBQ for you. I’ll do whatever it takes.” So I used to always go to my cousin’s events to help her out. She said “Hey, you should go to chef school. You’re pretty good at what you do.”

Q: How was culinary school and how did your career grow from there?

I attended the New York Restaurant School. I went to school from 11PM to 7AM. And I worked from 8AM until 4PM at a deli in Brooklyn. I did that for two years straight.

In 1998, I helped my cousin drive from New York City to California. It took us a week to get there and of course once we got there, I was like “Oh my gosh, Hollywood!”

I came back home, sold everything I had and moved to California. The first job I got was at the Cheesecake Factory making $8.50 an hour as a broiler cook.

Chef Anthony soon progressed to the position of Trainer, moving up to open the Grand Lux Café in the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He moved on to open Rock Lobster in Mandalay Bay and returned as a Sous Chef to open the Cheesecake Factory stores in Arizona. Vidal also did stints at Lonestar Steakhouse and Elephant Bar before working alongside James Beard Award nominee Carlos Guia, and finally joining Hash House A Go Go in 2005.

“[Joining Hash House A Go Go] was one of the happiest days of my life,” enthuses Chef Anthony.

Q: That’s an interesting name, how did the name Hash House A Go Go originate?

The name Hash House was owned by one of the owners and the A Go Go was added by the other owner because where he learned to cook it was very fast paced, and he wanted to incorporate that into the name.

Q: Describe the concept for us.

Large, generous portions and fresh. Nothing frozen or out of a can.

Q: What do you see as the biggest operational challenge in your kitchen?

Right now it’s execution, because we have no heat lamps and no microwaves, so everything has to be orchestrated right. The price of beef and pork and dairy going up is also a challenge. And we can’t downsize the amount of food we need, so the food price is also a great challenge right now.

Chef Anthony and Chef Will White at World Food ChampionshipQ: What excites you about the food industry in general–what keeps you motivated to keep on cooking?

Well for me, I enjoy seeing the guests enjoy my food and using their five senses. Their sight, touch, taste, smell, even the sound of the food–all those jump out in my food, so I love it when I see the faces of people light up. I mean our pancakes are 15” round! Like a hub cap!

Q: What kind of trends do you see having an impact overall in foodservice?

I think in the long term it is gluten-free items. Back in the day when they used MSG and people got sick, and then they took it out and made the food healthier. It is very important to know your food. Also I see more farm-to-table. Now people buy more locally rather than wherever is cheaper.

Q: Do you ever think back at some of the choices you made and how you could have gone a different way?

Everyday I’m grateful. I always say, I never forget where I come from. I have three kids, and they are not picky, they eat everything I put on the table. Every month I take them and we feed the homeless, so every day I do not forget where I came from. I don’t waste food in my house. I cook enough where we cannot be too full and waste it.

Chef Anthony and kids VolunteeringQ: Is that a big driver behind your involvement with so many charities and organizations in the Las Vegas area?

Yes. I always give back.

Q: What is your involvement with the Nevada Restaurant Association and the Pro Start Mentor Program?

We have culinary classes in the schools. And they have a competition every year where they have an hour to make an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. The first couple of years I was a mentor, so I helped them through the challenge, but for the past five years, I’ve been a judge. So every year I’m mentoring kids on how to cook and pursue the restaurant life and how to get into it.

Q: There are a lot of people that didn’t have that type of environment growing up, so if you told them you have to go to two years of complete night school, while working full time, they would shake their heads. So do you see that you enjoy the interaction with your customers because of that?

Yes. At times I see an employee that doesn’t want to work the extra hour overtime, and I tell them you always have to be hungry. I say when you rest, is when you die. Always have a dream at the end, because if you want to reach that light, you always have to work hard. Don’t just settle or it’s never going to happen. I used to watch TV as a kid and there was always someone that said I’ve been there, I’ve done that. Now I’m that guy. If anybody has a wish or a dream, it could happen.

Q: What kind of advice can you give to people who want to start off in the foodservice industry?

I tell them that it is hard, and that you have to be open-minded. Most importantly, you have to have the passion, if you’re just here for a job it’s not going to work. I always offer them tours and jobs to see if they even enjoy the industry before they decide to get fully into it.

I would say to be open minded and never say “I got it.” You never got it unless you’re a master at what you do, and there are not many masters out there. Always be hungry and always want to learn.

Chef Anthony with Kids at Bite of Las VegasQ: What accomplishment are you most proud of so far?

I’m happy with my kids. They do well in school, they’re not hungry, and I could provide what my mom and my dad couldn’t. So I’m most happy that my bills are paid, that I can employ people who are hungry enough to have a job. At Hash House we don’t hire part time because full-time people are more devoted.

Q: As executive chef at Hash House, you must have really long hours. How do you find time to spend with your kids?

I’m off Tuesday and Wednesday, and then other days I’m home by 7 and they’re in bed by 9. Any bit of time I can spend with them is good. I go barbeque with them and go to their soccer games.

Q: What type of foods and flavors do you enjoy playing around with at home?

I’m Puerto Rican, and I never got a chance to learn that cuisine, so I enjoy making that type of food at home. But I make my heritage food at home more healthy.

Hash House a Go Go Chefs with Cambro insulated transporter - Catersource - Las VegasQ: Do you use any Cambro products in your operation right now?

Yes, I buy anything I can that’s Cambro. It’s all Cambro. Even in my house. I have the Cambro warmer with the wheels and plug [insulated electric transporter].

If you’re in Las Vegas, stop by the Hash House and say hello to Chef Anthony Vidal! Continued success Chef!

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