Opening Choctaw Casino

March 29, 2010

One of the best things about working for Delaware North Companies is it allows me to prepare food in all different kitchens. One week I might be in Yosemite National Park and then the next I might be at the baseball all-star game. There are so many different venues.

Last month, I had the chance to travel to Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma. While Delaware North operates at several casinos around the U.S., I haven’t worked at them a ton. I’d say the one I’d been at most over my career is Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in West Virginia.

Regardless, I was impressed with Choctaw Casino. It is an incredible place. I couldn’t believe the offerings the casino has from the perspectives of gaming, lodging and of course, cooking. Honestly, the casino has one of the most useful cooking areas I’ve seen. I was blown away.

The reason I had traveled to Choctaw Casino was to help with its grand opening. Delaware North’s Gaming Hospitality Group is operating all the food and beverage at the casino. Already, the company has unveiled several restaurants and hired a 270-person staff.

As you’d expect, the casino had several events and a huge grand opening celebration planned for the first week. To handle all the cooking, we brought in several of our best chefs to assist. It took an incredible team effort, but we prepared some delicious food for thousands of people over six days. There mouths were watering, as you’d say.

I have a good feeling the people who visit Choctaw Casino will get used to great food. Delaware North’s Executive Chef, Christopher Tunnell, impressed me a great deal. It was the first time I’d worked with him and my initial reaction is that he works very, very hard.

We worked all day and around the clock to prepare the food for the grand opening events. Finally, after the last big party, we wrapped up around midnight. I needed to get sleep to catch my early flight. When I left the kitchen to go to my hotel room, Tunnell was still there. Seven hours later, when I stopped down to grab a quick breakfast, Tunnell was already back and hard at work. I was very impressed.

All in all, I’d call the grand opening at Choctaw Casino a huge success. I look forward to heading back there someday. Hopefully, several of you will all visit there too. It is a beautiful casino. If you do make it there for a visit, don’t forget to check out the kitchen.

Thank you. I’ll blog again soon.

 In Good Cooking Always,

 Chef Roland Henin, CMC


Busy, Busy and the Bocuse D’Or

February 24, 2010

It’s been a busy start to 2010 in and out of the kitchen for me. I’ve been zipping around the country to several events with Delaware North Companies and am really pleased with our chefs’ efforts.

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the chance to comment on The Ahwahnee Executive Chef Percy Whatley and his good efforts at the Bocuse d’Or competition earlier this month. For those of you who missed it, Percy earned the award for the “Best Meat Platter” at the competition.

The Bocuse d’Or is one of the toughest culinary events in the world and this was a qualifier to make the U.S. team. While Percy did not make the final team, he should be very proud.

The qualifying event required Percy to create a fish and meat platter within roughly five hours. That may seem like a lot of time, but it’s not when you’re trying to make your work as close to perfection as you can. Every second is important.

I spent time at The Ahwahnee helping Percy prepare. We tried to simulate the timing of the competition as best we could. Percy worked hard. It takes a lot out of a chef to work at this level.

One of the best tips I would give a chef getting ready for a competition like this qualifier is to shoot for efficiency. You have to be efficient in everything you do. With Percy, I had him prepare his dishes and timed him. If he was 10 minutes over the time limit, we went back and looked for ways to save time. You have to understand you can’t get time back in minutes or big chunks. When cooking at this level, you have to be efficient and shave a second or two here and there.

For example, if you have to peel all sorts of items, don’t do it one at a time. Peel everything at once. That way it’s ready when you need it. If you have to wash vegetables, wash them all at once. If you’re pouring sauce from a dish, set the dish right next to your work area and not a foot away. Every second counts and that’s how you conserve them.

Percy worked hard and he took all these lessons to heart. I am proud of his work skills.

Alright, as I said, I’m busy, busy, busy. If you’re looking for more information about the Bocuse d’Or, visit If you’re looking for an overview of what happened at the qualifying event, read where Andrew Friedman gives a recap.

I have other things I’ll do blogs about soon. Talk to you then.

In Good Cooking Always,

Chef Roland Henin, CMC

My Moment of Clarity

February 9, 2010

Scott Green, Delaware North’s executive chef at Fairgrounds Gaming & Raceway, recently wrote about what it takes to be a committed chef. I wanted to share it with all of you. I thought it did a great job of talking about the “organized chaos” that characterizes so many busy kitchens.

 In Good Cooking Always,

 Chef Roland Henin, CMC

 My Moment of Clarity

 This is it. It’s my time to shine. 

It’s a busy, bustling Friday night and the rush has hit. You hear the sizzling of sauté pans and you can feel the heat of the grill. The micros printer is shooting out a rooster tail of tickets and the rails are already full. We have a saying here: “The tickets are in the pickles.” That means the connected white and yellow dupes have fallen from the machine and dipped into the pickle container on the line. That’s not a good sign.

The kitchen is buzzing like a bees’ nest. Cooks are lost in their actions. They have been down this road before. Each one knows how to work next to each other without bumping, and you hear the constant calls of “behind.” The wait staff and food runners are buzzing in and out of the kitchen in a circular motion. It’s as if the Daytona 500 is being held in our kitchen and dining room. We just hope there’s no big crash that causes food to hit the floor and plates to break. It is at this point that I start seeing the fragile balance that keeps the kitchen and food service operation working together.

This is when it all comes together. This is my moment of clarity. Seconds before the crap hits the fan, everything slows down. I draw a mental picture of how to put the puzzle back together. It’s like The Matrix when Neo realizes his powers of slowing everything down and making his move before he is hit with the bullet. He understands what is happening around him and knows what moves to make. It’s like how Russell Crow puts together all the equations and develops the hypothesis of attracting the beautiful woman from the pack in A Beautiful Mind.

 It is my time to react. I am the conductor of the orchestra and must keep our culinary team working in harmony. I am barking out the calls, assigning people to jobs. Moves are being made three, four and five tasks ahead of time like a chess game. I am seeing things being done before they happen. I know what move to make. You have hired and trained this staff to be able to do the job at hand. You have built a team and done your homework. The plan comes together and you have weathered that perfect storm. Food is flying out of the kitchen. It has been prepared properly and efficiently. I have helped my team accomplish its goals for the night.

I am the chef with has his hands in the pot. You give your team the tools necessary to get the job done and only step in when you are truly needed. I have noticed two kinds of chefs in this crazy culinary world. There is the one who steps in when the kitchen is about to fall into the weeds. This chef leads the brigade to victory. Then there is the chef who is in “the corner chopping parsley.” This chef disappears and hides when the team needs help the most. I will never be in the corner….

Chefs’ Holidays in Yosemite National Park.

January 25, 2010

I lived in Yosemite National Park for five years and definitely participated in many Chefs’ Holidays there. I participated as a “helper” and as a chef who conducted cooking demonstrations and prepared dinners. They are incredible events held at The Ahwahnee hotel each year.

I will be getting down to Yosemite later this month to do some work with The Ahwahnee Executive Chef Percy Whatley. While I won’t be attending any of the Chefs’ Holidays events, it will bring me to memory lane. In a recent e-mail I was copied on by Chef Percy I was reminded of the specialness of these events.

It’s an honor to be surrounded by so many world class chefs during The Ahwahnee’s Chefs’ Holidays events. They perform their cooking demos right in the middle of the hotel’s Great Lounge, visiting us from some of the finest restaurants in the country ~ New York, Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco, you name it. And the special bond we have is unparalleled. For a few short weeks each January, The Ahwahnee kitchen opens its doors to some of the most dynamic collaboration of culinary talent found anywhere, each of whom prepares one of the five courses served to guests attending the culminating Chefs’ Holidays gala dinners. These chefs work side by side with our Ahwahnee kitchen staff ~ it’s truly magical.

If you’re visiting Yosemite or just want to learn more about this event, that’s great news. This is the 25th year of Chefs’ Holidays. It will run from Jan. 10 to Feb. 4. It brings many of the best American chefs and culinarians together. People who visit get to enjoy tasting events, meet the chefs and a one-of-a-kind dinner at The Ahwahnee. It’s an event we chefs are very proud of.

For more information, head to

I’ll check in again once I’m done with my work with Chef Percy.

In Good Cooking Always,

Chef Roland Henin