The restaurants at the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway don't open until February 3, but the shiny, state-of-the-art kitchen facilities are already operating at full speed. The culinary staff — including executive chef James White and his staff, featuring such well-known names as Marshall Roth (last seen at Dog Nuvo), Victor Luna, pastry chef David Rodriguez, Nick Estell (formerly of Julian and Michael Smith), Justin Spencer, Adam Artzer, Russell Bollhoeser and Thomas Mangos, among others — have been working long shifts for weeks. They're not just getting geared up for opening day, when the casino officially opens its doors, but also training on equipment that a lot of these professional cooks have never seen before.
James White, who admits that all of the culinary equipment in the casino kitchens is very expensive and very technically advanced (including the top-of-the-line, German-made Meiko dishwashing machines, which conserve energy, water and chemicals), has never worked in such a magnificently outfitted kitchen facility in his career. White calls the machines in the kitchen of the casino's upscale steakhouse, the Final Cut, "Marshall's toys" because the wildly creative Roth — former executive chef of the Phillips Hotel — is entranced by devices like the searing-hot Plancha grill ("It's like a flattop on steroids," says White) or the PolyScience Anti-Griddle, which freezes anything put on top of its surface to minus-30 degrees Fahrenheit. I still can't understand what practical uses it has, but Roth says he has dozens of ideas.
As someone who started his restaurant career polishing silverware and glasses — we didn't have machines then — I was fascinated by the glass-and-silverware polishing machine in the kitchen of the Final Cut: It uses corncob pellets and UV lights to ensure that there will never be a visible spot or possible blemish on any piece of flatware or glassware in the restaurant. If that doesn't guarantee perfection, there's another machine with heated, whirling feathery spools that absolutely defines the term spot-free.
Have you seen a Henny Penny before? It's a deep-fryer that looks like a device from the Discovery One in 2001: A Space Odyssey.; it has its own grease-delivery system so that the cooking oil is always fresh. And speaking of fresh, each kitchen is outfitted with a computer labeling system so that every storage compartment is tagged with a printed paper label describing its contents, package date and freshness date.
No scouring or heavy pot scrubbing in these kitchens; there's a large sink outfitted with a Power Soak motor — the roiling water looks as inviting as a Jacuzzi — that makes quick work of dirty pans. Pastry chef David Rodriguez has his own chocolate-enrobing machine in the pastry area and a machine that shaves hard dark chocolate in minutes. There's a Stoelting gelato machine, too, for the house-made ice creams and gelato that will be served in the restaurants and in Hollywood and Grind, the 24-hour coffee bar and grab-and-go sandwich shop.
The Final Cut Steakhouse (which will only be open Wednesday-Sunday) has electronically temperature-regulated glass wine cases for the 560 vintages that will be stocked in the combination dining room and museum. (The "heirlooms" displayed in glass cases in the dining room include one of the original blue-and-white "Dorothy Gale" outfits created for Judy Garland to wear in the 1939 Wizard of Oz and a tuxedo worn by Daniel Craig in one of the recent James Bond films.) Servers won't offer a printed wine list but a programmed iPad featuring the wine list, the beer list and that night's selection of specialty cocktails.
The casino's version of a "diner" is the sophisticated Marquee Cafe, which does boast an old-fashioned soda fountain in addition to electronic light shows. The kitchens have soda fountains, too — the kind of soda dispensers found in convenience stores. On a hectic Saturday night, if a kitchen staffer wants a sip of cold Coca Cola, it's right there.