From his family’s kitchen to the commercial one of Taco Bell, to studying criminal justice and then back to the kitchen and an education at the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Eric Koehler’s path to his over 25-year culinary career has been anything but ordinary. Now the Executive Chef of T-Mobile Arena, Chef Eric brings his diverse background to the Levy team.
How did you find your way into the world of food?
My first job in food was at Taco Bell…does that count? I grew up around family in the kitchen, which is I think where I first caught the cooking bug. In college I studied criminal justice, and was getting into a groove. I won an award in mock trial, I got an internship, but I realized it wasn’t the right path for me. I left college and began working in a restaurant in Nashville, and a year later I began culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America.
And then you knew you found the right fit?
Absolutely, like I said, I caught the bug. It’s the best feeling getting into work in the morning being excited about the preparation for the day, there is always something to do, people to meet, and friends to make. I knew this was the right career for me. Even as a kid, I was really into a show on PBS, Great Chefs of America, and I began asking for cook books for Christmas gifts. Cooking was definitely a hobby early in my life.
Any fun memories from your family kitchen when you were growing up?
As a kid, getting together with family revolved around eating. One of my favorite memories was going to my Grandma’s house for Christmas, the desserts were the best part, all homemade, one of my favorites was her homemade candy. The whole day was just full of great food and spending time with family made it really special. I try to pass on fun traditions to my 15-year-old daughter. When I have Tuesdays off we do Taco Tuesday, from homemade guacamole to fresh tortillas, we prepare it all and it’s so much fun.
What brought you to Levy?
I’ve been lucky to have an amazing career, working with some incredible properties and chefs, although recently, I was looking for a new challenge. My career started in Seattle, and eventually I knew I wanted to go back to school and I looked into the University of Las Vegas. I decided to move to Las Vegas, and started as a barista but networked and began working with different restaurants and hotels. There is a lot of great opportunity in Las Vegas. Once I knew I wanted a new opportunity, the Executive Chef role at T-Mobile Arena was just posted, and I chatted with some friends in the industry, and with other Levy employees and everyone had such great things to say. So, I gave it a shot, and here we are!
After all these years and different roles, what makes you passionate about being a chef?
Things are never dull, we serve so many different guests and prepare different spaces that no two days are the same. I’m always creating solutions and thinking on my feet, there are a lot of moving parts. It’s important to me to tailor menus or dishes so I feel comfortable and proud of what we are serving. That way, guests have a unique and tasty experience at T-Mobile Arena. Each chef has a different style, so it’s exciting to join a new company to make an impact in the way I know and like to prepare dishes.
What is something you’re looking forward to putting your signature touch on?
It’s important to me to prepare homemade options that are simple and fresh. I’ve been revamping some menus and working on the carving stations and meat program. I want guests to enjoy dishes like BBQ that are made with love, and that is as good as anything on the Strip. My focus most recently is the carving stations, I’ve been testing a few different recipes and pairings to create a terrific rotation of options for guests to enjoy.
Finally, what is your favorite dish at T-Mobile Arena?
Oh, that’s a tough pick. There are so many options, but the Prime Rib Dip sandwich in the Jack Daniels Lounge is one of my favorites, just thinking about it makes my mouth water.