“Iron Chef” alum and restaurateur Kerry Simon, the quintessential celebrity chef who helped open restaurants around the world, including some of Las Vegas’ premier dining destinations, died Friday at age 60, multiple sources confirmed.
Simon went public in 2013 with news that he was battling multiple system atrophy (MSA), which has symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. He died at Nathan Adelson Hospice in Las Vegas.
“You’re never prepared for something like this. We’re devastated that we lost such an amazing and kind man, but know he is in a better place. Our focus now is to continue this fight against MSA in Kerry’s honor,” said friend and longtime business partner Elizabeth Blau.
Simon was credited with laying the groundwork for the dynamic culinary landscape of Las Vegas today with his modern approach to traditional comfort food: crab cakes with papaya slaw, the greatest and most memorable mac and cheese, twice-baked banana bread with tempura bananas, pristine ahi tuna with fresh wasabi, and incredible meatloaf, Las Vegas Weekly’s Brock Radke wrote.
“It’s always been described as comfort food remade with Simon’s own twists, but he believed food can always be comforting, as much as he believed in the balance between indulgence and moderation. That’s why you could always find the perfect burger, the one that won him fame on ‘Iron Chef’, on his menu, alongside the perfect roasted organic chicken.”
He rubbed elbows with rock stars
News of his death drew tributes from the food world and beyond — actors, musicians, even NASCAR drivers — reflecting the illustrious scope of Simon’s fan base, cultivated over four decades in kitchens across the country.
Legend has it David Bowie proposed to Iman in Simon’s kitchen at the Plaza Hotel’s Edwardian Room, where favored customers were invited to privately dine in front of the staff. He catered rock star tours, such as the time Led Zeppelin flew him to London to cater a concert; musicians were regulars at his Las Vegas restaurants, according to journalist Robin Leach, former host of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” who wrote his obituary for the Las Vegas Sun.
“Kerry now has the largest turnout of dining reservations to take care of in heaven. It’s all tragically sad, but at least Kerry no longer has to do battle against the pain, discomfort and horrors of this awful brain disease,” Leach wrote.
The man known as the rock ‘n’ roll chef got his start working as a teenager in Evanston, Illinois, alongside future comedian Bill Murray at Little Caesars.
“I always knew I could cook, ever since that first chicken cacciatore I made at home,” he told journalist Lonn M. Friend in 2014.
Simon graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and moved to New York. As a pastry and sous chef at the historic Lafayette Restaurant in the Drake Hotel, he met his mentor and future business partner, Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
When Plaza Hotel owner Donald Trump’s first wife, Ivana, invited him to be executive chef of the Edwardian Room, he transformed it into a destination thanks to the “hip niche” he created in the kitchen, as Rolling Stone called the private table.
Simon made his mark on Vegas
After leaving the Edwardian, Simon opened restaurants for Vongerichten around the world. He returned stateside to open Blue Star at Miami’s Raleigh Hotel in the mid-1990s, where he began to develop what would become his signature approach to American comfort food. More restaurants in Florida and New York followed before Vongerichten sent him to Las Vegas to open Prime, the crown jewel of Steve Wynn’s Bellagio.
After the steakhouse opened in 1998, Simon made Las Vegas his home. He partnered with Blau to open Simon Kitchen and Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel in 2002, which relocated in 2008 to Palms Place, where the Sunday pajama brunch was born, followed by KGB at Harrah’s and Carson Kitchen.
The Las Vegas culinary community mourned Simon’s passing.
“All of us at the Palms are deeply saddened by the passing of Kerry Simon who was a beloved part of the Palms family for many years. His passion, his creativity and his spirit made an indelible mark on our property and the entire Las Vegas culinary scene that will not soon be matched. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family,” the Palms Casino Resort said in a statement.
Simon’s television appearances included an episode of “Iron Chef America,” defeating Cat Cora in “Battle Hamburger.” He also was a mentor on Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen.”
After he went public with his condition Simon became involved in fundraising for MSA research. A 2014 gala was a star-studded affair featuring Murray, his old friend from Little Caesars, as host and a musical roster that included Slash, Kip Winger, Alice Cooper, Todd Rundgren, Vince Neil, Matt Sorum and Lisa Loeb.
“Kerry Simon was a masterful chef, he was full of enthusiasm for the world, he was a fighter but more than that, Kerry was a wonderful human being — and he was my friend,” said entrepreneur George Maloof Jr., part owner of the Palms Casino Resort.
“Today my heart is heavy but there is comfort in knowing that his personal battle is over, that he is at peace and that his spirit will live on through his restaurants and the work being done to fight MSA in his name at the Cleveland Clinic. May we all move forward in his honor carrying just a little piece of his energy, his passion and his love of life.”