Chef Vic Vegas is on Fire
By Jenn Zenn
“It’s pronounced ‘cipollini onion’…stop butchering words!” Vic Moea, a.k.a. Chef Vic Vegas, laughs as he voice transcribes a text message to a friend into his cellphone when we sit down to talk shop. Specifically his shop, Vic’s, located in the Anthem area of Las Vegas. Metaphorically speaking, it seems that he never steps out of that chef’s coat, he’s always got great food on his mind, and most of all, he demands respect for the food itself. On our conversational menu are topics ranging from Vic’s incredible work ethic, co-operating a restaurant with one of his best friends, and his recent and ongoing appearances on the Spike TV hit, Bar Rescue. In addition to his restaurant and his many television and public appearances, Vic recently landed himself the honorable position of working with U.S. Foods as a Corporate Executive Chef. It seems that there is much more to this self-taught chef than meets the eye…
JZ: I was reading about how you’re self-trained. Tell me more…
VV: That’s why I wear the dishwasher shirt…that’s not a Chef’s coat I wear…it’s the dishwasher’s shirt, because that was my first job. Instead of me wearing the fancy chef’s coat, I wear the down-and-dirty dishwasher’s shirt.It’s awesome because starting out as a dishwasher and working in bars on the side of the road, to the finest restaurants in a fifteen to twenty year time span, I worked my way up from dishwasher to hotel executive chef. Then, U.S. Foods hired me as a corporate executive chef, it’s like, you can go no further!
JZ: …and you’ve done that in a very short amount of time, right?
VV: I did… from start to finish… about twenty years.
JZ: So, you’ve really had no formal culinary training at all then?
VV: Zero…I’ve never worked under any other known chef…and it’s a blessing actually because, once you do that, you become the reflection of that person…which, I don’t mean to say that in a bad way because there’s a lot of chefs out there that work for someone else. But, everything I’ve accumulated, and everything that I’ve learned, everything I know, all came from me sourcing it out myself.
JZ: So in your opinion, is it harder for chef’s who’ve taken the traditional route, compared to what you had to go through to find success?
VV: It was actually harder for me, the route that I took. But in the long run, it made me different because I adapted to myself as opposed to following a structured format…the cookie-cutter degree, etc.
JZ: You’re from New York originally. When did you move out west?
VV: 1989. It was because of my parents, I was just a kid and they brought me out here! When I first got here, it was not huge yet- it was just starting to grow. It was old Vegas still in full effect. I was building up as the city was building up.
JZ: What are some of the most important lessons that you’ve learned living in Las Vegas?
V: To definitely keep a very tight, trusted circle of friends around you. Trust is key.
JZ: Do you work with your friends?
VV: The co-owner of the restaurant is a friend. I have two partners: our financial manager, and my best friend Scott. So my best friend is actually a partner in the restaurant. He’s been my best friend for fifteen years.
JZ: That’s amazing! So how is it working with such a close friend? Do you ever butt heads?
VV: Nope, because he understands. He gets it…Scott gets the whole thing. He sees what my eyes see, he knows what my eyes, mind, body and soul experience, so when it’s time to leave Vic alone (because when I’m filming a show, the restaurant gets ten times busier)…he knows what I’m going through.
JZ: How has working in reality television, media, social media, and all of the stuff that you’ve got your hands in, affected your business?
VV: In amazing ways! It has affected me as a chef in an important way because, everything you do out there becomes recorded and people can see it. So the more you do, the more people see, the bigger the comfort zone that gets created because the first thing that people do nowadays when they meet you is check your credentials. Everything is online and available.
JZ: How did the location of your restaurant come about?
VV: We kind of tripped over it. We had plans of going elsewhere, more inner city, but it just kind of popped up. There were actually close to twenty restaurateurs trying to grab that restaurant location and it was a process that had been going on for months. We threw our name in the hat at the last minute, and we were the wild card.
JZ: That’s so great! As we all know Vegas has a tendency to categorize: local vs. tourist. So what would you say is your restaurant’s target audience?
VV: Well, it’s kind of rough because it’s so very unexpected that I would go into that location, so we were kind of looking at it as a privilege to be able to reach out to a different clientele. We figured we know what we’re going to be doing, we know we’re going to be a restaurant group, why not get our asses handed to us for a year or two to really polish us and make us great, so when we do finally hit the Strip and Downtown, we’re ready for anything!
JZ: So you really did want to learn, “trial by fire”…
VV: My career…I mean, I say I didn’t have schooling, but in a way, I really did. I worked at bars, I worked at local Mom and Pop’s, I worked at corporate local establishments and hotels (both non-corporate and corporate), I became an executive chef of a hotel, and that qualified me for a corporate executive chef’s position of a nineteen-billion-dollar food company covering Las Vegas and Southern Utah!
JZ: It’s so true that people tend to be impressed by individuals who are “self made”…
VV: I’m self made all the way, and let me tell you, I’ve felt every bit of the struggle.
JZ: You’ve been in the industry a long time and I’m sure you’ve noticed trends and changes. Do you follow the trends? Or do you set your own trends?
VV: Well, I respect the trends because it’s part of the industry, but I like to be part of the trend setting. That’s why I really lucked out because, if you line up a thousand chefs, you’re probably going to notice me! I’m just, different. I don’t try to be different, but me just being myself, I fall into this other category.
JZ: What would you say your specialty is?
VV: My specialty is Classic American Italian and comfort food, all the way. I was one of the first. Vic Vegas is known for the ‘twisted classic’ stuff. Good eats. Vic’s restaurants will be expanding in Las Vegas…different locations and different concepts.
JZ: So back to television, we know you’re on Bar Rescue, but what was your first experience with reality television? Where did it all begin?
VV: My debut was in 2008 on the Food Network challenge, Big Bash Catering Competition. First time ever competing on TV
JZ: Were you terrified?
VV: My knees were shaking! I thought the microphone was going to pick up my knees hitting together! It was insane because you have that make-you-or-break-you feeling the first time on the show before you even get a chance to become something. It was a one-time episode competition show. It was the only time and year, they never repeated the competition…so me and my teammate, we go down in history as the only Big Bash Catering companions in the history of Food Network. After that show, I was on The Italian Family Feast. I had the opportunity of being surprised by my family to help me cook
JZ: Was that fun?
VV: My dad and my aunt showed up out of the curtain, and we had no idea until we were filming and they came out. And it was totally nerve-racking because I just knew that my family wasn’t going to listen to me! And they did not at all. My father cut up all my food and fed the audience, and then I had nothing to feed the audience…so now that I have no food to present to the judges, I have to accept that as fact, and I took responsibility, and they saw me as a growing chef even though I’m not formally trained, I knew to take responsibility (though it wasn’t my fault). But I was the chef of the kitchen, and instead of crushing me, they (the judges) mentored me and let me know that I was a better chef today than I was yesterday because I took accountability.
JZ: The chef really is the manager of the kitchen. Tell me about U.S. Foods…
VV: U.S. Foods is a great company to work for. U.S Foods has definitely supported me- we’ve collaborated and joined forces to make food service better in Las Vegas and southern Utah, straight up. We have it broken down into three chapters: National accounts (franchises and chains), Streets (‘Mom and Pop’ places and local restaurants), and hotels. We cover everything. I travel a lot; they use me on a national level. I’m representing U.S. Foods in the Indy 500. I’m teaming up with a racecar driver, we’re making his favorite dish for one thousand people and all the proceeds go to charity.
JZ: What are some of the charities that you guys support?
VV: St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, Three Square and Boys and Girls club. I want to bring awareness to charities, and hope to spread the word on their behalf.
JZ: Time to get personal: are you married or single?
VV: Mr. Vic is single. I’m so busy, so honestly I substitute that time for a relationship with work time. And the goal of all this hard work is so that one day, I can make someone very, very happy. I’ve got kids…I’m a father. Family is important to me. And I have a dog; his name is Meatball. I told Meatball when I got him ten years ago, I promised him that I was going to make him famous! I got him as a puppy and he’s been my best buddy ever since. He’s gotten to see a lot. He’s been through it all with me.
JZ: I want to talk about tattoos. What are the meanings behind your tattoos?
VV: At first I only had the black tribal, and as I got older, my tattoos started to have more meaning to me. Now my tattoos (dice) means I always roll the dice, and reach into the fire (flame tattoo)- that’s what I do for a living, and that’s what I do in life in general; I take chances. But as well, I use these hands to create, so no matter what…look how far it’s gotten me…I have the winning hand-number twenty-one. I’m constantly reaching into the fire.
JZ: If you had one person, living or dead, that you can say is your role model, who would it be?
VV: My inspiration is Mr. T. I feel like I’m a descendant of his, in a different 2020 kind of way. He’s my hero! “Do the right thing!” And I’m a wrestling fanatic. Somehow, some way, I will find a way to wrestle professionally! Half of me iswrestling.
JZ: Any other projects that you’re working on?
VV: NBC Food Fighters is NBC’s culinary extravaganza, Home cooking vs: Chef, and I am in two episodes. We are the defenders; we’re like gladiators. I’m now heavily involved in a world food championship which is the Official Olympics of Food. I was the host of the final food fight in 2013 and it’s coming again in November; I’m the host of the final food fight.
JZ: What would your tagline be?
VV: I’ll say this: we come far, and some people that get in our situations forget where they come from, and I just always tell people: stay humble, and be proud.