Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

Courtesy Wynn Resort Photograph by Barbara Kraft

Really? $250,000 to train a truffle sniffing dog? That sounds like owning a racehorse to me, but Chef Theo Schoenegger explained that the difference between a pig and a dog finding truffles is significant. A pig loves to eat truffles, but trained dogs will proudly present truffles as gifts.  These highly  trained dogs can pay for themselves in one season.

Chef Theo introduced my ll year old “Blue Baker” to truffles not too long ago. I learned a lot from her interview with Chef Theo on truffles, his background as well as how he initially fell in love with cooking.

Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

The Gourmet Review at Sinatra Restaurant

Chef Theo is executive chef at the fabulous Sinatra Restaurant at Steve Wynn’s Encore Hotel in Las Vegas. From the moment you pass Sinatra’s oscar for his performance in “From Here To Eternity” with Ava Gardner, to his golden grammy award, you know this will be a nostalgic evening.

Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

Sinatra Restaurant Courtesy Encore Hotel | Photography Barbara Kraft

The restaurant entrance is situated next to an elegant bar showing old Sinatra movies. The food is reminescent of Frank’s favorite Italian dishes. It’s a given that Sinatra will be singing throughout the evening.

Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

Sinatra Restaurant Courtesy Wynn Encore | Photograph Barbara Kraft

Of course, Chef Theo adds his own special touch to every plate, from meatball appetizers, caprese salad, prosciutto and melon, lasagna, Frank’s Spaghetti and Clams to ossobuco “My Way.” The romantic setting, the music and the superb food make this an extraordinary dining experience.

Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

Pasta With Truffles Courtesy The Gourmet Review

One of my favorite dishes on the menu is the small pasta pockets filled with bufala ricotta and herbs topped with asparagus sauce. These are light as air and absolutely delicious.

Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

Since my “Blue Baker” was conducting the interview and had never tried truffles, Chef Theo was kind enough to tell her a little about the background of truffles and why they are so expensive. Watching the truffles shaved onto the pasta pockets and watching my favorite girl savor the smells and  taste for the first time was exciting. What was surprising was that she loved the truffles and the pasta dish!

INTERVIEW

Q     Tell us more about the dogs and truffles.

A     Of course, in the old days, it used to be you needed pigs to get truffles. Now they train dogs. The best dogs to do this are beagles. They’re especially trained. The dogs can be worth in excess of a quarter million dollars.

 Q     Because?

A      Because they have incredible scent. They’re trained for truffles. Think about it. Truffles are grown under terrain. So a white truffle can be three feet down. You have to dig. So a dog would go to the place where he smells it (the truffle) and start to dig. And then you dig it up with a special gadget. Whites can be as deep as three feet. In the old days, it was pigs. Pigs had to sniff out the truffles.

However, the thing about pigs is they would not just sniff them out. That’s their delicacy, too. So, by the time you would get there, the truffles would already be eaten!

Q      Ooooohhhh.

A      Now, the dogs on the other hand, they don’t do that. They actually hand it to you. Sometimes, like the summer truffles that are (growing) just a little bit under (ground), they dig them out and they actually bring them to you for a treat. It’s a very unique thing.

 Q      How are they trained?

 A       It’s an art. I mean I’ve been on truffle hunts. It’s one of those things. Some dogs have this keen sense of smell. They can identify truffles and bombs and whatever, but in this case it’s truffles.

 Q      That’s interesting.

 A       And they can actually produce up to the same amount of money (as the cost of their training) in truffles in one season. A good dog will find you a quarter million dollars worth of truffles.

 Q       Can you tell me about truffles?

A       That’s easy. So, there are lots  of truffles. There’s hundreds of different types. However, there are three that we mostly consume.

So, from most important (expensive) to least (expensive). The white truffle is the most important. The white truffle is only found in Italy, perhaps a little bit in Yugoslavia. And the white truffle is available only during a very specific timeframe from September to December.

The white truffle cannot be cultivated. Nobody has been able to do it. The price ranges from at least $2000 a pound. There have been truffles auctioned off for up to $150,000 a pound!

 Q      What does the truffle look like?

A       The truffle is a tuber that grows under the earth. It only grows with specific trees and you have to have the right conditions. It takes about 15 years for that first edible truffle to grow under the tree.

Q      Really?

 A      Yes. That’s why cultivating truffles is not such an easy thing, because you have to first plant trees and there’s only six or seven kinds of trees that actually produce that particular  kind of environment. And then after that, it takes about 10 to 15 years. Everything that grows before ten years is inedible. After that, you know, trees can be hundreds of years old and they produce some incredible truffles.

Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

Black Truffles at Sinatra Restaurant

So then you have the black truffle. The black is the Perigord truffle (grown) mostly in France (the name originates from Perigord, France) , but it’s also in Italy. Now in Oregon a little bit – Himalaya and Australia somewhat.

Q Really?

A So, the outside is black, just like the one you saw (just presented a black truffle), but the inside is also totally black. That’s called the precious one. In Italian it’s called pregiato  and that ranges from $800 to $1800 a pound.

And then there is the estivo, which is the summer truffle that grows in Italy – mostly in the central region of Italy. It is the least important (inexpensive). The outside is very dark. The inside is light. Not so much taste, not so much flavor- less expensive ,from $250 to $500 a pound and that’s about it.

Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

Sinatra Restaurant at Wynn’s Encore Resort Las Vegas

Q      What is this? (Chef Theo is showing white truffles being cut at the table).

A      That’s the white, that’s the summer.

So, the winter is from December ’til February. The summer is from now (May) until September and the white is from September until December.

(My ll year old “Blue Baker” is about to get her first taste of truffles.)

Q      Do you like that?

A      That was really good.

Q      How did they ship the truffles so that they are preserved?

 A     Air freight. Now truffles are — particularly the winter and the summer are not that delicate. They hold very well. The white is a little bit delicate. I mean we used to do — in the old days, we used to actually have a courier package them up and fly them in, same day delivery.

Q     So how many truffles do you bring into (Sinatra) restaurant now?

A     So we bring in on an average, per truffle whatever variety it is, we bring about maybe 4 pounds.

Q     Out of — in what period?

 A    A week. People love that stuff.

 Q      Oh, that’s fantastic.

 A     People love it.

 Q     So what would you sell this plate for?

 A     We sell this plate for — not this one but a bigger version for 45 dollars.

Q     Hmm…

 A     Now the black is the same thing, it’s $75 and the white is $120.

 Q      Really?

 A      Right. But it’s an art. It’s something very specific.

Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

Plating Meatballs & Polenta | The Gourmet Review

Throughout the interview, Chef Theo introduced new dishes to the “Blue Baker.”

Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

Learning to Plate | The Gourmet Review

After tasting several dishes throughout the interview, the “Blue Baker” was curious about who first influenced Chef Theo and where did he grow up to learn and appreciate good food.

Q     Who most influenced your love of cooking?

A     My love of cooking was influenced mostly by my mom. She was an outstanding cook. Basically, I grew up in a little place in Cortina d’Ampezzo, in the mountainous Dolomites of northern Italy. My mom started it. She was a self-taught cook and raised on a farm with gardens. Of course, we raised pigs and all kinds of things. So, she decided to start a restaurant and, you know, she made some amazing food. So, I grew up eating all these beautiful things. I was one out of five siblings and I was the only one that had an interest in cooking. Already when I was 10, I was, you know, stirring in pots and helping and doing things.

Encore Resort's Sinatra Restaurant

A Great Interview | Thanks Chef Theo | The Gourmet Review

Thanks, Chef Theo,  for the great interview, teaching the “Blue Baker” to plate deserts, and giving her a great tour of the kitchen. We’ll be back soon for dinner with the family.

A special thanks to Jonathan, the incredible maitre’d, who oversees the restaurant and makes sure that every evening is one of perfection, from the food and service to the ambiance of the restaurant.

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