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Rick Moonen Dishes On Cooking Career

Rick Moonen's cioppino

Rick Moonen is a celebrity chef that has established restaurants in Las Vegas and as a champion for sustainable seafood.

Where some chefs – both professional and amateur alike – look at seafood as a persnickety thing to cook, Rick Moonen has made a culinary career out it.

He's also made sure that seafood is caught in a sustainable manner a hallmark of his profession, working as a vocal advocate for environmentally friendly practices.

Moonen said he become interested in cooking as a profession after spending time in the kitchen with his mother. 

"I loved to see things change before my eyes," the chef said, "I loved to eat."

He would have food competitions with his brothers and sisters to see who could prepare dinner for the night.

"It's a perfect thing for the person who had the type of mind that I have," Moonen said. "There is a million things going on in my head and there is always a million things going on in the kitchen."

He eventually went to the Culinary Institute of America, graduating at the top of his class.

While working in New York City in 1994, he got a chance to work at the noted seafood restaurant Oceana. He said that restaurant, and another in the city, changed how people thought about and cooked seafood.

"There is such an expansion of the way people consume seafood in our country," Moonen said.

In the early 2000s, Moonen was offered a place at Mandalay Place, the shopping and dining area between the Luxor and Mandalay Bay.

He said originally he planned on setting up the restaurant and then visiting a couple of times a year -- the way most celebrity chefs handle their Las Vegas restaurants.

However, those plans changed when he saw the restaurant.

"This is not going to work for me," Moonen said. "I have to actually move there. I have to physically be a part of this restaurant."

While the 17,000 square foot restaurant brought him, his interest and love of the community kept him here.

Moonen says although he loves and supports the big, celebrity-chef headed restaurants on the Strip, he also loves to explore some of the small restaurants around the valley, including Saffron Flavors of India on Craig Road and Forte European Tapas Bar and Bistro on Rainbow Boulevard.

"On my days off, I like to poke around and find those little gems that are everywhere," Moonen said.

The chef is known for superb seafood, but he says anyone can make great fish at home following his method.

First, he said to let the fish to be cooked sit out of the fridge for 20 minutes or so until the chill is off and the proteins "get a chance to settle."

He advised the home cook to use the broiler, turning it to high, if possible. 

Then, Moonen said to place a cast iron skillet or griddle on to a rack positioned at the top of the oven close to the broiler. He recommended using cast iron because of its ability to absorb and hold heat. 

While letting the skillet heat up for 10 minutes, Moonen recommended seasoning the fish with salt and pepper and then drizzle with olive oil. Add any kind of herbs or spices for taste at this point.

Then, he said to slide the fish onto the hot pan in the oven. According to Moonen, the fish should only take four to five minutes to cook through. He said it could be served with a squeeze of lemon and any herbs desired mixed into softened butter.

"It's now going to be cooked from both sides top and bottom," the chef explained. "Normally, if you take a broiler, slide a piece of fish under it, it is only cooking from the top."

Rick Moonen, chef

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)