"The Rock'n Roll Chef"
It’s a tale of short rib waffle fry nachos & meatloaf, an Iron Chef burger and truffle mac & cheese, a pajama brunch, and well, cotton candy. The “Rock 'n Roll Chef” wouldn’t have it any other way. Kerry Simon was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Evanston, Illinois. He developed his culinary passion while working out the angst of his teenage years and trying to obtain his first electric guitar.
A job at Little Caesars Pizza (alongside life-long friend Bill Murray) helped him score the funds, but his plan derailed along the way as he discovered his inner “foodie.” It was a love for Julia - not the Beatles tune, primarily - but instead, the cooking icon Julia Child, that shifted his aspirations from longing for a guitar solo in the spotlight to shredding away under the heat lamps of a restaurant’s expo counter.
After practicing her recipes and proving himself to be sufficiently bitten by the cooking bug, Simon was off to culinary school. Quickly earning his chops, Kerry was whisked away by none other than Ivana Trump to become the youngest-ever executive chef of The Plaza Hotel's Edwardian Room in 1989.
Chef Simon found himself serving celebrities like David Bowie, Diane Keaton, Iman, INXS, and numerous other stars and rockers of the day, all of whom were clamoring for a spot at one of his Chef's tables. Rolling Stone Magazine dubbed him the "Rock 'n Roll Chef,” and named him one of the most interesting personalities of the year in 1991 due to the company he kept and those who seemed to find conversation and comfort in the unique, magnetic ambiance of his restaurants.
He would go on to open SIMON Kitchen & Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas in 2002, which turned out to be a revolutionary concept in the landscape of Vegas dining, and was chosen by Esquire magazine as one of America’s best new restaurants that same year. SIMON Kitchen & Bar became the cornerstone of Kerry’s chefdom and philosophy toward - not just restaurants - but also, the people in them. It was magic and everybody wanted in on it. Actors, models, rock stars, businesspersons, ladies of the night, men of the hour, retirees, families, those in suits, those in leather, those in shorts and tanks, and even those in pajamas found a way to enjoy, alongside one another, the culture and comfort of Chef Simon’s creation.
Kerry Simon would go on to become an Iron Chef champion (2005) and make numerous television appearances on shows like Hell’s Kitchen, but his lasting achievement is still evident in how people remember him, not just as a celebrity chef, but for who he was in spite of it. A dear friend, a welcoming and gracious host, and someone who made time for everyone - employees and patrons alike; Kerry was with and for people.
In 2013, Chef Simon was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disorder called multiple system atrophy (MSA). Nevertheless, Carson Kitchen opened in the budding downtown of Las Vegas in 2014 and was awarded Best New Restaurant in the city that year.
Chef Kerry Simon passed away peacefully on September 11th, 2015, having provided hundreds of thousands of guests and employees with lasting memories of his playful and comforting fare, his unique and welcoming restaurant culture, and the understanding that life is short and there’s too much to be enjoyed from it to take ourselves so seriously – Keep Calm & Kerry On.
Simon's culinary tour spanned more than two decades of excellence from a myriad of restaurants and luxury hotels throughout North America, including: Lafayette Restaurant at the Drake Hotel, New York; The Plaza Hotel's Edwardian Room, New York; Blue Star restaurant and Starfish restaurant at the Raleigh Hotel, Miami; Max's and Mercury's, Miami; SIMON Kitchen & Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas; SIMON LA at the Sofitel Hotel, Los Angeles; Simon Restaurant & Lounge at Palms Place at Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas; LA Market at the JW Marriott, Los Angeles; Simon Prime Steakhouse and Martini Bar at the Hilton, Atlantic City; KGB: Kerry's Gourmet Burgers, a burger and vodka bar at Harrah's, Las Vegas; and most recently, Simon Mansion & Supper Club at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Punta Cana; Chuck's Simon Kitchen at the Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago; Carson Kitchen, Downtown Las Vegas; and Standard & Pour, Henderson, Nevada.
Cory Harwell's culinary journey began in the dish pit of a mom-and-pop restaurant in Woodstock, Georgia. Since those early days of dish washing, Harwell has enjoyed working in nearly every position imaginable in restaurants ranging from fast food, to fast-casual, to casual, and fine dining. He now uses those 20+ years of experience to conceptualize, consult on, develop, and operate properties throughout the Western Hemisphere.
In 1993, Harwell was afforded the opportunity to work closely with Marc Packer to open Harley-Davidson Cafe, Rue 57 and Angelo & Maxie's in New York City, and to build and operate Harley-Davidson Cafe in Las Vegas.
In 2003 Harwell was recruited by Tom McCartney at New York New York Hotel & Casino to help develop, build, and operate Nine Fine Irishmen. After opening this highly successful restaurant/pub, Harwell was promoted within the organization and ultimately became the Vice President of Food & Beverage prior to his departure in December of 2008.
In 2009, Harwell founded Uber Hospitality Group and owned three Round Table pizza franchises, as well as Caña Tapas Kitchen & Bar at Town Square Las Vegas (his first original concept). It was at Caña where Harwell and Chef Kerry Simon first met, and the beginnings of a friendship took root in their shared passion for comforting food and genuine hospitality. In 2012, they finally had an opportunity to work together when Harwell took over the operations of Simon Restaurant & Lounge at Palm's Place. In early 2013, the pair decided they would form a company and pursue their mutual interests and passions - Simon Hospitality Group was born.
Since SHG’s conception Harwell has spearheaded high profile projects including: the development and operation of Chuck's: A Kerry Simon Kitchen at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago, the opening and oversight of Simon Mansion at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and more recently, the creation, development, and opening of the signature owned/operated concept Carson Kitchen in downtown Las Vegas (2014), as well as Standard & Pour – Henderson, Nevada’s first true gastro lounge - which opened in the summer of 2016.
Harwell was also instrumental in the successful operation of Kerry Simon's other partnership ventures in Las Vegas: Simon Restaurant & Lounge at Palm's Place.
Of recent note, in 2016 Harwell received the award for “Restaurateur of the Year” in Las Vegas from Desert Companion Magazine – the same publication that chose Carson Kitchen as the “Best New Restaurant” in Las Vegas for 2014.
In addition to his passion for great food, fine beverage, and genuine fun, Harwell is an accomplished emcee who lends his talent to numerous industry and charity events.
Harwell lives in Las Vegas with his wife Lauren, and daughter Kayla James. He dedicates much of his spare time to charities that raise money and awareness for childhood cancers including St. Baldrick's and Tommy's Gifts for Kids.
Director of Beverage
Wisconsin native Matt Harwell learned the art of hospitality at a young age, having grown up in a family of wonderful cooks and generous hosts. He has an almost life-long experience in the restaurant industry, although a number of detours have certainly been present along the way. A teacher by degree, and an actor by trade, it was always the work of hospitality that held a truly special place in Harwell's life. From bussing tables as a kid in the Italian joint around the corner from his home to now working as the beverage director for Simon Hospitality Group based in Las Vegas, his restaurant experience has seen just about everything in between.
After graduating from York College in Nebraska with a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education and History, Harwell relocated to Omaha, Nebraska to begin work on his first feature film. The next several years were spent as many actors spend them – working in restaurants when you’re not working on movies. It was in this give-and-take where he came to realize his true passion. His formative hospitality experience began in 2005 at the upscale steakhouse, Mahogany Prime. It was that restaurant which initially opened his eyes to the intricacies of the business, aroused his love for the art of hospitality as a potential career, and the extensive world of wine, beer, and spirits. From there, Harwell went on to work at various long-standing establishments in server and bartender positions such as M’s Pub, La Buvette, 801 Chophouse, and most recently worked as general manager of The Grey Plume – a James Beard-nominated farm-to-table fine dining establishment.
In 2014, Harwell made the move to Las Vegas to help open Carson Kitchen in the budding downtown community, where he has served as the general manager since opening. His appetite for providing great hospitality, and developing staff for which to facilitate it has only grown in that time, as Carson Kitchen continues to satisfy guests from around the corner and around the globe. Taking pride in the development of a healthy, happy, and hospitable environment in which to work and dine takes center stage in Harwell's philosophy toward this business. In 2016, he was promoted to beverage director for Simon Hospitality Group, where he oversees the beverage programs at various restaurant group venues including Carson Kitchen and Standard & Pour.
Outside of the restaurants Harwell enjoys spending time with his lovely wife Jordan, working on his golf game, and cheering on the Green Bay Packers.