Shawn McClain, executive chef of Sage at ARIA Resort & Casino, has a knack for balancing innovative concepts with refinement and sensibility. His spirited New American menu takes the seasons as its departure point, tapping the freshness of California’s fertile environment to produce elevated flavor combinations interwoven with Mediterranean undercurrents.
A native of San Diego, Calif., and a 1990 graduate of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Evanston, Ill., McClain’s star rose quickly in the culinary world. He broke onto the national scene at Trio restaurant in Evanston, earning four stars from both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. There, his style came into focus, one that juxtaposes Eastern influence with Western foundations. After seven accolade-filled years, he left to open Spring – his homage to seafood. The restaurant opened in 2001 to extraordinary critical and consumer success. That same year, Spring was nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant award, and McClain was named Esquire magazine’s Chef of the Year. In 2002, he appeared in “40 Under 40,” Crain’s Chicago Business’highly competitive list of who’s who in the city.
By 2004, McClain was ready to take on a new challenge and opened his second restaurant, Green Zebra. An immediate success, this vanguard concept brings vegetables to the center of the plate and has been lauded by theNew York Times, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and several other prestigious publications. Green Zebra emphasizes Chef McClain’s insistence on the quality of ingredients and his talent for menu innovations. In 2005, he swung the pendulum in the opposite direction and opened Custom House. Located in an historic, boutique hotel setting in Chicago’s Printer’s Row, this modern interpretation of the classic steakhouse focuses on artisan meats and classic sides reinterpreted with McClain’s unique flair. Custom House opened to rave reviews, receiving three stars from both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2006, McClain was honored with the Best Chef Midwest award from the James Beard Foundation.
Now at Sage, McClain changes focus once more with a New American menu built on the irresistible freshness of California’s local harvests. When asked why he chose to open a restaurant in Las Vegas, McClain said: “I’ve been so fortunate to have achieved many of my goals in Chicago, an amazing city and great restaurant town. I have always aimed high, seeking new challenges. ARIA at CityCenter is such an awe-inspiring development; I am thrilled to be among the chefs and restaurateurs included in the project.” His sharp eye for distinctive concepts forms the cornerstone of his on-going ability to excite diners nationwide.
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