THE BOSS: Flay at his namesake restaurant at Atlantic City's Borgata.
BOBBY FLAY STEAK: The David Rockwell design, like Flay's other restaurants, started with the menu.
FROM WITHIN: Key posts at the Borgata were filled by current Flay employees.
Easy to find on TV almost any day of the week, celebrity chef Bobby Flay is lookin' good. Last year, he opened Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata in Atlantic City; this year he'll debut Mesa Grill at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. Flay, when out of the limelight, is a tuned-in leader, listening to staff needs and problem-solving with consideration. In a visit with RH contributor Libby Platus, this man of action and few words shed light on his life as a chef.
RH: With three successful restaurants in New York, one in Las Vegas and one opening in the Bahamas, and a world of possibilities open to you, what about the Borgata appealed to you?
Flay: Atlantic City is close to my home. The Borgata is the best hotel in Atlantic City. It's newer and has a young clientele. And they were willing to build the restaurant that we wanted with no questions asked. We own the concept and I'm partners with the Borgata.
RH: Borgata's Echelon Las Vegas will open in about three years. Do you think you will open there, too?
Flay: I don't know. Right now I have Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
RH: I noticed how carefully you were listening to a staff person in an informal meeting. How would you describe your relationship with your staff?
Flay: I don't yell and scream in the kitchen. I think that is unproductive. I consider myself a coach on a team, so I need to guide and inspire every day. I have conversations with individual staff members regularly, depending upon what's needed and what's happening with a particular person. It's really important to listen to their needs….you have to be able to hear what your staff members want out of their positions. You just can't make them a number, they have to feel like an important part of the restaurant. We try to impart the idea that the harder you work and the more you do in the kitchen, the more opportunity you'll have in the future for a better and higher-paying position.
RH: So staff members can look forward to the possibility of becoming a chef at one of your restaurants?
Flay: We don't hire anyone from the outside for management. It always comes from within. Most of them have been working for me a long time. For instance, the executive chef at the Borgata Steak House is Tara Keeler. This is the third restaurant where she has worked for me. A couple of sous chefs at the Borgata were hired as cooks and they have already moved up. They have proven to be to be the cream of the crop of our staff.
RH: How did you get involved in doing TV?
Flay: The Food Network started in New York City and they were looking for some chefs to be on their program. It was very early on and they didn't have the money to fly chefs in, so they wanted to use local chefs. I just happened to be one of them. They knew about me because I had received a lot of press from my restaurants. I felt appearing on TV was good for my business and that it would be foolish not to take advantage of the opportunity. That was 12 years ago.
RH: Do you get stage fright?
Flay: I do, every time.
RH: What percentage of your time is spent planning, preparing and being on TV?
Flay: Ten percent of our time. Right now we have three shows on the Food Network. We just do it whenever we can get it done.
RH: You have several listings on IMDb.com (International Movie Data Base). Your wife, Stephanie March, is an actress. Are you thinking of eventually segueing into film and TV only?
Flay: No acting for me. If they let me play myself, then I'll do something, just for fun.
RH: Do you have any regrets of missed opportunities?
Flay: I always feel, if an opportunity is missed, there will be another one.
RH: With five restaurants, the TV shows and books, what do you do to relax and recoup your energy?
Flay: I hang out with my daughter and my wife. I play golf. I run. I'm actually going to run a marathon this year. I run all year long. I ramp it up when it gets closer to marathon time.
RH: How do you view yourself in 10 years?
Flay: Relaxed! Retired! I use the word "retired" with quotes around it because I'm never going to stop working, but I'm NOT going to be opening restaurants in 10 years. Chances are I'll be winding down the restaurants I have in 10 years. I'll probably travel. Play more golf. Maybe write a cookbook here and there. Cook at home a lot. Enjoy myself.
RH: David Rockwell designed Bobby Flay Steak and Bar Americain and will be doing your Bahamas place at the Atlantis resort. How do you determine which way you want the design to go?
Flay: David is a food fan. We always design our restaurants from the kitchen out. All I have to do is feed him something I'm going to cook in the restaurant, and he gets the design ideas.
RH: What is an average day like?
Flay: I wake up around 6. Read the New York Times. Go for a run. Watch the news. Go to my office. See what I have to do for the day. Go to one of our restaurants for lunch, work the lunch service. Go back to my office. Do some more work. Go back to one or two of the restaurants for dinner, if I'm in New York. Go home.