WAYLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The grand opening celebration is weeks away, but the new industrial kitchen serving Gun Lake Casino’s three new restaurants is already bustling.
“I think Gun Lake is going to be a culinary destination to be reckoned with,” said executive chef Josef Huber, the 40-year culinary mastermind previously behind Amway Grand Plaza, DeVos Place, the Grand Rapids Art Museum and other institutes that shape Grand Rapids’ landscape.
The food concepts for Shkodè Chophouse, Craft Bar Kitchen and 131 Sportsbar and Lounge were already in place when Huber joined Gun Lake Casino in March.
“You just put thoughts down on the paper, and then thoughts came to words, to dishes, to picture to yeah – off we went,” he explained.
The culinary team comprised of roughly 50 new cooks and seven new chefs spent the past month fine-tuning the tastes, colors and presentation for dozens of dishes that will grace the menu at the steakhouse, taphouse and lounge.
“The team comes together the last couple days to cook through every single recipe, every dish we have. Also for the chefs so if there’s a challenge, to figure out which of the team members is really strong in which area,” Huber said.
“Obviously how do you climb a mountain, right? It’s step by step,” he added.
ON CBK’S MENU: FAST BAR FAVORITES WITH A TWIST
CBK’s menu focuses on pub favorites like Scotch eggs, burgers, a fried walleye sandwich, truffle fries, onion rings, sliders and salads. “More involved” dishes include shrimp and andouille sausage with fried egg and blistered citro peppers, and brei wrapped in filo dough and stuffed with cranberry relish.
“But (these are) no… less difficult or more difficult than to get the burger right. The burger, we are sticklers for how the burger is cooked… how the burger bun looks like, how the ingredients are stacked on the burger. So when you actually eat it, what do you feel first?” Huber explained.
CBK patrons will have plenty of burgers to “feel,” from the Wise Men burger, which is topped with barbecue brisket, an onion ring and barbecue sauce, to the JBOJ, which includes American cheese, jalapenos, onion, bacon and jam. Each one comes with two hamburger patties sourced from Tolman’s Meats in Hudsonville.
For CBK, every minute in the kitchen counts.
“The pickup time is less than 12 minutes and we are expecting about 600 or 700 covers a day out of this kitchen,” Huber said.
Huber helped design both kitchens with a focus on efficiency and speed, adding refrigerated drawers right below stove ranges, a TurboChef that cooks foods about five times faster than a traditional convection oven, a blast chiller that cools foods by 100 degrees within minutes, a video intercom to coordinate supply deliveries from the kitchen, and a system that switches out fryer oil at the push of a button.
ON SHKODE’S MENU: SIMPLICITY, SOURCING, SMOKING
You’ll find an unusual addition in the corner of Shkodè’s kitchen: a smoky aromatic fire.
“They’ll be cooking with white oak. They’re going to finish off the salmon, the lamb and some other dishes… on this wooden fire pit,” Huber explained.
The upscale steakhouse focuses on freshness and local sourcing, with chicken from northern Michigan slaughtered within two days, and oyster mushrooms that were picked within about a day by “the mushroom man” of Pebble Creek Produce in Caledonia.
In a nod to the casino’s tribal culture, Shkodè will also serve up course grits grown in a region only occupied by Native tribes, which are ground on site then shipped overnight.
“We keep them simple with just butter, garlic and shallots. The grit is really course, unlike any other grit you’ll have. Essentially the corn is cut in half only,” explained another chef.
The simplicity of each dish presents its own challenges.
“With (fewer) ingredients in a dish… the chef needs to make sure that every ingredient is perfect. So (if) you have only six ingredients on there, all the six ingredients would be absolutely perfect. (If) you have 20 ingredients on there, I think it’s a mess anyway,” Huber said with a laugh.
While some menu items will change seasonally based on in-season produce, Shkodè’s initial menu will include a chopped salad tower topped with crispy onions, butternut squash bisque with black truffle lentils, parsley and roasted pumpkin seed oil, and chicken served with chimichurri sauce, au jus and sides oyster mushrooms and grits.
MIXOLOGY MAGIC: VAPOR BUBBLES, FAT-WASHED WHISKEY AND SMOKED COCKTAILS
Not to be outdone is mixologist Zac Williams with his new lineup of adult drinks.
“We just wanted to make eye-catching cocktails for these brand-new outlets here in the casino, which is supposed to be a destination, an experience that people can come out and kind of see things they don’t usually see. So that’s my job, to kind of wow them with cocktails they wouldn’t see anywhere else,” he said.
His bag of beverage tricks includes cotton candy garnishes, smoking drinks, fat-washing whiskeys and edible bubbles that contain citrus, rosemary, mixed berry and smoke aromas.
“And we can just have kind of like a vapor that’s odorless and tasteless for just the effects,” he added.
Williams uses a tool bought from Europe to create the edible bubbles.
“Definitely here in Michigan, you don’t see this vapor bubble anywhere,” he said. “So that’ll be new and that’s fun and exciting.”
Gun Lake Casino will roll out 18 new cocktails, six for each restaurant. While the menu will change seasonally, the first round of drinks include:
Medicine Wheel: Contains Gin, elderflower liqueur, sage, cucumber, lemon juice and egg white topped with dried sage that will be torched as the cocktail is brought to the table, filling the room with sage aroma.
Italian Hound: Contains Campari, gin, grapefruit juice, soda water, lemon juice and butterfly pea tea syrup.
Vivian Ward: Named for the main character in “Pretty Woman.” Contains strawberry candy liqueur, vodka, limoncello, lemon juice and cranberry with a cotton candy garnish.
Aviation: Contains gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and crème de violet topped with an edible bubble that contains citrus aromas that escape like smoke when popped.
Shkodè Old Fashioned: Made with whiskey washed using fat from Wagyu beef burger cooked in Shkodè’s kitchen.
BBB Old Fashioned: Beer reduction with beer barrel bourbon and maple bacon, served smoked.
“The guests are going to love that bacon on there. It’s pretty awesome,” Williams said.
The menu will also include tiki cocktails. Drink prices will range from $9 to $12, according to Williams.
Nearly two years after construction started, Gun Lake Casino will celebrate the grand opening of its new restaurants on Sept. 17 and Sept. 18, almost two years after the $100 million expansion started.
The Phase 4 expansion also includes an expanded floor for an additional 500 slots and a dozen electronic table games.
Huber said he’s ready for the casino’s next expansion – a $300 million project meant to turn the casino into a resort, with a 250-room, four-diamond hotel that could potentially host concerts, meetings and conventions.
The Phase 5 expansion is expected to include a pool enclosed in a glass dome with private cabanas, a spa and another restaurant.
“Big hotel, big pool, more restaurants, more F and B (food and beverage). Let’s do it. Yeah. Yeah. I’m all pumped up,” Huber said.
Gun Lake Casino’s Phase 5 project is currently in the design phase.