Somehow, after running the busy Las Vegas restaurants rm seafood and Rx Boiler Room all week, Chef Rick Moonen still has energy left to throw boisterous, elaborate house parties on the weekends. The celebrity chef, whom you might recognize from Top Chef Masters and Top Chef, and his wife Roni live on a large property on the Northwest edge of Las Vegas, dubbed “Moonen Ranch. Most Sundays are “Moonen Sundays” at the Ranch, with friends and family invited over to partake of the food and drinks that the Moonens prepare, inspired by the season and the bounty of their backyard garden.
We couldn’t resist the chance to ask such an accomplished chef (and apparently, a voracious party-planner) some tips for hosting successful and relaxing gatherings at home.
Thanks for chatting with us, Chef Moonen. We’re curious to know more about Moonen Sundays! How did these come about?
Sunday is my day off (most of the time). It is also the day that I cook and create original recipes at home with the help of my wife, and our backyard garden. We jump on the challenge together. I ask Roni to go to the store and buy whatever looks good to her, and then I figure out a way to cook it. It often becomes a bigger-than-expected project, and we end up inviting friends and family over to share. The creative rush of experimenting with new dishes and cocktails, and sharing with our circle of friends, became known as “Moonen Sunday.” Floating around in the pool, playing whatever music we feel like that day, and sharing great food and drinks is life at its best!
How do you approach menu planning for these gatherings?
The menu just happens naturally. We come up with a theme and just improvise. The theme can be influenced by any of 1,000 factors, like: the mint in my yard is at its craziest peak and I have an abundance of rum, so let’s make mojito’s! That’s where a Moonen Sunday theme can be born. Next thing you know we are cooking Cuban cuisine! Slow cooked pork butt on the BBQ, rice and beans, Cuban sandwiches, and shrimp and garlic, with Latin American and Caribbean tunes cranked up.
What have been some of your favorite iterations of Moonen Sundays?
The Kentucky Burgoo Party was wild game animals roasted in my wood-burning pizza oven and stewed for three days in my 13-gallon cast iron cauldron suspended over a live fire. Bourbon was the spirit of choice for this party. The Cajun bash was fun, too. Gumbo was simmered in that same cast iron cauldron for 60 close and personal friends. We also did a whole baby lamb on a spit for Easter one year, complete with adult Easter Egg hunt. This list goes on and on…
Are you ever hesitant to host gatherings at your home after working in the hospitality biz all week long?
This may sound funny, but it is actually how I relax. I love to burn wood and cook. It gives me a rush, and without a bunch of people I care about to share it all with it is for nothing. It invigorates my creative mind.
On that same tip, what has running restaurants taught you about hosting people at home?
Hosting people at our home has taught me how to run a restaurant. It is all about hospitality. My staff loves working our parties and I am proud to have them at my home.
So you and your wife are gardeners? Any tips for our readers on how to start, plan, or improve their at-home edible gardens?
I live in a desert landscape so you have to take into consideration the season and all that brings with it. Summers are extremely brutal on your garden. Healthy soil is essential in order to have positive harvests. Composting is fun to do, it makes you feel connected to your property…do it. It takes a lot of trial and error (and patience) to understand your unique environment. It has taken us six years to get to the production and quality level we are at today. We still are far from perfect. It is a project that keeps on giving.
Here at Spoonful, we’re all about home gatherings. Do you have advice on how to rock a big party without much stress?
It is easier for us than most to host a successful themed party. We have a house full of props, a full pantry, all the equipment toys, a pizza oven, giant BBQ grill, The Cauldron, a four-foot diameter Paella pan. Just hit the on switch and we are ready to entertain! Our advice is to include what you have in your home. Be seasonal…color outside the lines a bit. Customize something every time, and just have fun.
What’s one common hosting mistake or misstep that you can help us to avoid?
Keep the menu bountiful yet simple, and select dishes that you can make ahead. Formal sit down dinners cause stress…avoid that, and just get down and dirty. Stay within your comfort level. Play loud music.
What makes a Moonen Sunday, or any dinner party, feel like a success to you?
A huge amount of empty bottles, soiled plates, and laughter. Social media and the posted pictures are also awesome…except it invites the onslaught of comments from those who weren’t there. But it is a great way to create memories and stories with those we love. That’s why there must always be another Moonen Sunday in the future.
Radishes photo by Brian Elledge, Chef Moonen photos courtesy of Chef Rick Moonen