Review – Heidi Knapp Rinella, Culinary Editor in the Journal, Retires

After more than two decades of keeping Review-Journal readers up to date with the food, faces and trade movements of the Las Vegas food scene, journalist Heidi Knapp Rinella is retiring. His tenure at the newspaper coincided with the remarkable expansion of the city’s restaurant scene, and Rinella was there to cover it all as Las Vegas grew into an internationally renowned dining destination. His career has been marked by accolades – including three First Place Critical Writing Awards from the Nevada Press Association – but more so by the respect of his peers and readers. She will be missed.

However, we couldn’t let her leave the newsroom for good without going through some sort of exit interview – a final digest, if you will.

What’s your main conclusion after 22 years of covering the Las Vegas food scene?

That the profession is one of the most difficult and at the same time one of the most rewarding for those who choose it, the most successful dedicating themselves to it at a level that rivals a religious vocation. And that this is a community of warm and caring people, which is nowhere more apparent than in the restaurant industry and RJ readers who are interested in food and dining. . In contact with probably thousands over the years, negative interactions were very, very few, and when my daughter died in an accident almost 12 years ago, the number of people – casual friends, distant acquaintances and strangers. absolutes – who contacted me was a solace I can’t even verbalize, and I can never fully express how grateful I was and still remain so. This city will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Is there a trend in Vegas restaurants that you particularly liked? One that you haven’t done?

I love the ever-increasing diversification and experimentation of all kinds, even when it’s less than successful. I also love the fun fusion combinations that have popped up that recognize common ground in kitchens in a way people can learn.

I did not like: The omnipresence of kale. I always hated it, always will be, no matter how many times people try to put lipstick on that particular pig.

You must have had some memorable encounters with chefs …

I guess what I liked the most was hearing their stories – like when Wolfgang Puck told me that when he opened Spago at the Forum Shops in 1992, people started lining up at the open kitchen as if it were a buffet. Spago opened during or just before NFR, and he said he’s never seen so many cowboy hats and thought it was always like that. He said he was worried the restaurant would never do it, and so he would come home every evening, drink a bottle of wine and go back the next day. He had no idea he was about to change Las Vegas.

Who is the most important character you have met?

I would say that should be the late Jay Hamada, and I say that with the greatest affection. The son of a Japanese naval officer who found himself unemployed at the end of World War II, Hamada knew he would have to make his own way and became an athlete and dancer. Fortunately, his friendship with a millionaire businessman from Kobe, a portly man who was himself a frustrated dancer, led Hamada to lead a Japanese cultural group whose tour of the United States included a place in ” The Ed Sullivan Show “. He ended up coming to Las Vegas in 1962, starting as a dishwasher and bartender, and eventually had nine restaurants here. It was a pleasure talking to him and he could still do the splits at 72. And as a nod to my Austrian heritage, he would blurt out “Palatschinken!” (His favorite Austrian dish) when he saw me.

Memorable dishes?

There are so many, many, most of the time good but a few bad. One of the most memorable dishes of my career, however, was probably when I was still living in Florida and a friend challenged me to try a restaurant specialty, White Chocolate Scallops and mead. It was surprisingly delicious and reminded me that even the most unlikely combination could work. Occasionally.

Is there a closed restaurant that you wish you could come back to once again?

It should be Grapefruit on East Sahara Avenue. I loved everything about this wonderful flashback: the fact that Bobby Darin inspired the name, the resulting warren-shaped layout in an old house, the elegant service of the waiters in tuxedos, the incredibly elaborate basket of raw vegetables. served with dinner, and faithful interpretations of French classics that never went out of style. # 2 should be Andre’s French Restaurant downtown.

Do you have a favorite dish that people might be surprised to learn you like?

Every holiday season, I have to cook my grandmother’s stollen, which contains the dreaded candied fruit. Over the years, I have become the only one in the family to eat it. I guess he will die with me! Conversely, I will never eat a squab. I believed my great-grandmother, who said it was just pigeons.

Which restaurant will you visit first in retirement?

This question reminds me of people asking me about my favorite restaurant, which often happened. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to reveal it, but that it would change with the day, time, my mood, my desires, etc. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been a regular in a restaurant and probably never will. There is simply too much to discover.

James C. Tibbs