An interview with Chef Sam Marvin

Written by Chris Cutler

In the 14 years that my husband and I lived in Nashville before returning to Las Vegas in 2009, the city’s dining scene has matured. Big time. While there always have been great restaurants in town, the number has grown and now includes neighborhood eateries. One of my favorites, Echo & Rig Butcher/Steakhouse in Tivoli Village, is the brainchild of Chef Sam Marvin.

What brought you to the kitchen? Who or what inspired you?

My mother was Moroccan, and my father was Spanish. I grew up loving a variety of foods. When I was five-years old, I would go to my Moroccan grandmother’s everyday, and we would walk to market. We’d go home, and she’d cook all day. Everyone came home from work and enjoyed the dinner she’d spent five, six, seven hours cooking.

Where did you study?

When I was 18, I moved to Paris and went to Le Cordon Bleu. That was 33 years ago. There were 17 kids in class. We had no books. We learned nothing on hygiene. We just learned to cook, to take fish apart, to butcher. I wanted to learn. I had a love and passion for cooking, so I interned at a butcher shop before class.

After three years, I graduated and interned at a Michelin three-star restaurant in France. I got room, board, and meals for working from 8:00 am-3:00 pm and 4:30 pm-12:00. When my internship was over, they offered me a paid position, so I stayed on to learn more. I then went to another internship at a restaurant owned by George Blanc. He was head of the Poulet de France, a farm-to-table movement that existed long before it was cool. That internship led to another paid position. I cooked and traveled and cooked and cooked and cooked.

We know you were chef at Piero’s for years. How did you end up there?

Freddie Glusman used to fly to LA to come to my restaurant about once a week. One day he asked me what he had to do to get me to move to Las Vegas. The next thing I knew, I was cooking at Piero’s.

What are your five favorite ingredients?

1. Lemon. Moroccan food uses lemon in so many ways — to preserve, to make chimichurri, to clean the palate. Lemon adds the final touch of brightness to a dish.

2. Soy sauce

3. Chicken bones. I’ve used chicken bones to make stocks a lot to use it for soups, sauces, poaching, anything to thin out or to add viscosity. I also roast the bones for dark, healthy broth.

4. John Dory is the perfect fish—white, delicate, fatty, flavorful. I love it.

5. A quality salt

What do you like most about being a chef?

I love the creativity and that keeps me so young. I like working on new concepts, new menu items, new techniques. The molecular gastronomy is not for me, but I love that it continues. I love the challenge to innovate. A chain restaurant doesn’t treat food in the same way the French Laundry does. It’s about the culture and philosophy of the culinary arts, about making it better and improve upon it.

What advice to you have for a young chef?

Keep it as simple as possible. A wise chef knows it’s harder to keep it simple than to make it complicated. Try to make everything the same way they make in three-star restaurants. Source as much as possible — produce, seafood, meat.

What would you request for your last meal?

I’d love a whole grilled fish with bones and everything. I’d sit on the beach area and have just lemon on it and pick off the meat. It would be so clean and fresh and help me feel good about it. And, maybe I’d have a beer with it.