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Brits abroad: Lee Bennett

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Written by:
Brits abroad: Lee Bennett

The executive chef at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas tells Katherine Alano what made a born and bred Yorkshireman get up and go

You are a seasoned Brit abroad, having worked in Dubai, Paris, Singapore and now the US. What’s the attraction of overseas roles?
I first went to Dubai at the age of 21 as a sous chef for Jason Atherton and Gordon Ramsay and that was a big eye-opener. I got a taste for how amazing life could be living overseas, from understanding new cultures and local cuisines to learning how the hospitality business works differently from one country to another.

You’re part of the team at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas which is currently being redeveloped. Tell us more about the hotel
We are completely reimagining Monte Carlo into two new distinct hotel brands – the 2,700 room Park MGM and the 292-room NoMad, which will launch in the next 12 to 18 months. The two hotels will offer resort experiences unlike anything else in Las Vegas, in addition to an entirely new collection of dining concepts, including Eataly.

What are your responsibilities at the hotel?
I’m part of the back of house executive team.

Who are the key clientele within the hotel’s restaurants?
Las Vegas attracts a diverse crowd, so it’s important to capture everybody we can – from guests staying in the hotel to those coming in off the Strip and business clients.

Are there any other Brits working in the hotel?
Yes. There are many Brits living and working in Las Vegas. At Monte Carlo, we have a catering and events team member from London who has lived here for 35 years. There is also a Scouser who is part of the executive back of house team over at Mandalay Bay.

You’re originally from Bridlington, Yorkshire. Is there anything you miss about home?
Being so far away from my family and childhood friends I think is the top one.

What do you like/dislike about living and working in the US?
The US is so vast, and all 50 states feel like different countries. My wife and I have visited 13 of the 50 states. We chose Las Vegas as it is a big hospitality town. It also has the best of both worlds as it is very affordable to live in and easy to get around. People think Vegas is all about the Strip, but there is so much more to do – from hiking at Red Rock, white-water rafting in the Grand Canyon and speedboat racing on Lake Mead.

Was it difficult getting a working visa? Do you have a green card?
I do have a green card. I secured it before I left the UK. It took a little over a year, as I had to get certified police records from every country I had lived in since I was 16 to show that I had no criminal record. I’m married to an American, so in a way I guess it was easier, but it was still a lengthy and costly experience.

How has working overseas enhanced your career?
Early on, living abroad really helped my career advance, especially the three years in Paris. However, over the past six years, in certain ways, moving around has held me back. That said, I wouldn’t change it. MGM is a fantastic company and provides great career opportunities.

What advice would you give a young chef thinking about working abroad?
Don’t imagine it’s all fun and games. How you work back in the UK, no matter how successfully, may not translate abroad. Then there can be language barriers, especially when you are in charge of an operation. Even in the US, where English is the first language, I guarantee there are many times my team doesn’t have a clue what I am saying in my Yorkshire-English! And it can be lonely. You need to give it a good six months to settle – remember why you decided to move abroad.

Is there anywhere else in the world you would like to work?
There are many more places in the world I would love to visit, but for now I am focusing on my career with MGM Resorts. I have also bought a beautiful house in Las Vegas, and my wife and I love the city. That said, MGM Resorts is growing both domestically and internationally, so it’s best to never say never. Just don’t let my wife hear me say that.

CV highlights
2016-present Executive chef, Monte Carlo, Las Vegas, US
2015-2016 Executive chef, Michael Mina Bourbon Steak & Pub, Santa Clara, US
2013-2015 Executive chef, Angelica & Crafthouse, D&D London, Leeds, UK
2011-2013 Chef de cuisine, Equinox, Swissôtel the Stamford, Singapore
2008-2011 Executive chef, Le Pont de la Tour, D&D London, UK
2003-2005 Demi chef de partie, Pierre Gagnaire, France
2001-2003 Sous chef, Gordon Ramsay Group, Dubai

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