The stories behind the culinary craftsmen of the world start in a variety of unique ways. For Kurtess Mortensen, the Chef and General Manager of the Pioneer Woman Mercantile, the story begins in a small town in the southern part of Utah surrounded by wholesome people and the simple but honest foods that sustain them. Vegetable gardens, fruit orchards & livestock were more frequent to come upon than grocery stores, and his family had a passion for preparing those honest foods in the most delicious way possible. It came as no surprise to any of them as Kurtess began down a path to pursue cooking, not only as a passion but as a career.
After spending his teenage years working in regional restaurants, Kurtess pursued formal training at Western Culinary Institute in Portland, OR where he earned high marks and the chance to engage in a coveted internship with one of the world’s finest chefs, Thomas Keller. Working on the opening team for Bouchon in Las Vegas, brought a sense of refinement to his cuisine that would follow him throughout his career. His next steps would take him into the company that would become known as Caesars Entertainment where he got his first taste of the design and development side of the restaurateur, opening and remodeling several concepts.
A brief two-year turn with the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas, provided the opportunity to flex those creative muscles in the opening of more than half a dozen new concepts in that hotel. Kurtess then returned to Caesars Entertainment pursuing the chance to build and create. During this period with Caesars, Kurtess led the culinary development for dozens of restaurants including Guy Fieri’s Las Vegas Kitchen, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, The Linq Hotel and Promenade, The Cromwell Hotel, and more in addition to being named the first Executive Chef of Giada. While finding his passion in the creation of world class dining, Kurtess took an opportunity to lead culinary development for Elite Brad Hospitality, a worldwide development firm with projects as far reaching as New York City, Miami, Tokyo, Korea and Dubai.
Despite all this, the most compelling opportunity Kurtess had ever been offered came from a small town in rural Oklahoma called Pawhuska. Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, was looking for someone to help bring her vision of restoring and developing a grand turn-of-the-century mercantile store. The Pioneer Woman Mercantile, Deli and Bakery opened in October of 2016 to astonishing crowds and stellar reviews and continues to thrive a year later. Kurtess plans to continue working with the Drummonds for as long as they will have him, developing the hospitality side of their wonderful operation.
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Chef Kurtess Mortensen
Chef Kurtess Mortensen poses with Giada De Laurentiis at Giada's, The Cromwell on the Las Vegas Strip.
(Norm Clarke/Las Vegas Review-Journal)