Chef Roy Ellamar Brings Sustainable Eating to Sensi in Las Vegas (Interview)

April 18, 2013

Earlier this month, I was given the opportunity to visit Las Vegas to experience the M life, a loyalty rewards program from MGM Resorts International and their many partners. M life members are rewarded for their loyalty with a myriad of experiences that are only open to card holders. You can read all about my M life experiences by following #LiveTheMLife on Twitter. 

In part with the weekend full of great food, relaxation and celebrity sightings, I had the pleasure of dining at Sensi, a restaurant in Bellagio. The restaurant is certainly a place that appeals to all the senses, with a beautiful decor that includes stone walls and blissful waterfalls. Sensi also offers a completely unique dining experience by specializing in Italian, Asian, American grill and seafood dishes. In one evening, I was able to get tastes of butter chicken, steak with black truffle, vegetable rolls, naan, samosas, and a plethora of seafood. 

Sensi is headed by Executive Chef Roy Ellamar, who is a recent winner of Chopped and takes the dining experience a step further through his commitment to sustainable eating. He has incorporated organic food, the use of local growers, and has even used recycled paper for the menus at Sensi. Learn more about Ellamar's efforts in the interview below. 

1. What aspects of sustainability have you integrated into Sensi?

Upstream recycling. All of our food and organic waste is recycled into growing material for farmers. Actually, the entire resort does it now but the program was started in Sensi.

Conscious choices when buying food. All of our fish are purchased in accordance with the Monterey Bay aquariums seafood watch. The "watch" is an up-to-date list of sustainable and non-sustainable fish species. All of our beef is grass fed and raised humanely. Corn, which most beef in America is raised on, is the worst thing for cattle to eat but it creates marbling, which Americans love. The beef we serve is leaner and rich of omega 3s yet surprisingly tender and flavorful. Our pork comes from Niman ranch, who has been a proponent of hormone-free and stress-free raising of their pigs since they began years ago. Our chickens are Mary's Chicken, an open range in California. Our salmon is a story in sustainability itself. The whole operation of Skuna Bay salmon from start to finish is sustainability at its finest. See their website for more info:

Local growers. I try to use as many local growers as possible to grow herbs, salad greens, tomatoes, etc. By using our local growers, we sustain livelihoods and directly impact the local economy.

Our new menu paper is made of recycled paper.

2. Why is sustainability important to you? What was your inspiration?

Sustainability is important because we as restaurateurs have a huge impact with our buying power and influence on what people eat. At Sensi, we don't force sustainability or responsible dining upon our guests, but we do it because we feel it's our responsibility to the initiative. I was influenced a very long time ago, early in my career. I grew up understanding where food came from and the relationship we have with the earth and the things we take from it and give back. It's how I grew up and it's how I was raised. When I started cooking I realized there was that element missing in a lot of professional kitchens. There was a lot of waste, a lot of not having relationships with the people that grow your food. I made a promise to myself that one day when I am a chef of my own operation that I would take that initiative to cook responsibly and operate sustainably.

3. What advice do you have for Foodista readers who want to start eating organically?

If you want to eat organic produce you should also support your local farmers' markets. Not only is it the freshest you can get, but you are also supporting the community. Organic produce in supermarkets can tend to be of poor quality because they don't sell as much as the less expensive items and therefore sit on the cooler shelves. Also, read your labels on your food -- marketing is getting trickier so be sure it's "certified organic." Lastly, cook for yourself as much as possible. That way you are 100% certain of what is in your food.

4. What is your favorite item on Sensi's varied menu?

My favorite item on the menu would have to be... too hard to decide. My favorite appetizer is the Roasted Octopus -- sustainably-caught Spanish octopus marinated in lemon and olive oil then roasted in our stone oven. It's served with roasted baby potatoes, fennel, piquillo peppers and saffron aioli. My favorite entree is the Skuna Bay miso-glazed salmon. The fish is just amazing to cook and even more satisfying to eat.

5. After winning Chopped, do you have any other TV aspirations?

Life has been great after being on Chopped. I have definitely seen the power of television. I'd like to do more TV cooking competitions, maybe something where I would be on a show for a full season.