His search took him from first cook and then senior chef de partie at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge to restaurant chef at Edmonton’s four-diamond Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, an accomplishment made before his 25th birthday. In 2003, McClary was appointed executive sous chef at Casino Rama and shortly thereafter became executive chef.
Today, he says that his extensive industry knowledge holds him in good stead as he oversees about 700 Casino Windsor staff (including 156 cooks, supervisors, and managers). The expansion will see that number climb to nearly 900.
Though he has headed up kitchens in the gaming industry a relatively short time compared to the rest of his career, McClary views the differences as subtle.
“The fundamental part of being a chef, regardless of the gaming industry or elsewhere, is completely hospitality driven,” he explains. “It’s all about taking care of people and making them feel special.
“Gaming customers are the same people as at Jasper Park Lodge, but they’re different too. They’re not just coming for a vacation to see the beautiful property, dine in the restaurant and visit the spa. They’re here for a purpose: to game. And the gaming floor is the driver of our business.”
In order to take care of business at Caesars Windsor, McClary is focusing on the casino’s expansion and determining how to best meet its primary goals.
“We need to make sure we have the right staff hired, that the menus are ready, and that we are in tune with what we need to meet capacity. All of that has to be communicated to staff,” he says.
Casino Windsor’s restaurants include Nero’s Steakhouse, a richly appointed, contemporary 184-seat steakhouse inspired by the signature Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas restaurant, the 650-seat Market Buffet, Legends Sports Bar, the 24-hour Artist Cafe which can accommodate 255 guests, and the Cosmos Lounge and VU bar.
Regardless of the venue, McClary adheres to a philosophy that the customers themselves—representing a diverse clientele—will be the judges of how fast a menu changes and where it goes.
“The direction your menu takes is steered by your guests and what their desires are,” he explains. “They want good food and they want familiarity with it for when they come back. At the end of the day, we have an increased focus on our clients to provide the best customer service possible.”
Nero’s Steakhouse is a case in point. The restaurant, according to McClary, is destined to be a strong force in the market given the proximity of the competition across the river in Detroit. “We want to play in that market and ensure it is a great experience for our guests,” he offers.
While some might find the frequent shifting between kitchen whites and a suit that accompanies a dual job title daunting, McClary sees it as the perfect fit. “In combining the roles, everything I’ve learned over my career comes into play, both back- and front-of-house, each day.”
By Andrew Coppolino