Suppliers to the food stars

Casino workers grow herbs on Sandy Valley farm that are coveted by discerning local chefs


Steve Marcus

Paula and Rodney Pudwill grow herbs on a small farm in Sandy Valley. Their efforts have won notice from the chefs at Bradley Ogden, an award-winning restaurant at Caesars Palace, where they work as a blackjack dealer and pit boss. Now the Pudwills sell herbs to some of the best restaurants in town.

Tue, Feb 3, 2009 (2 a.m.)

When restaurant critics lavish praise on Bradley Ogden, the restaurant at Caesars Palace that hangs its name on fresh, organic ingredients, Paula Pudwill, who deals blackjack at Caesars, and her husband, Rodney, a pit boss, just about pop their buttons with pride.

Of all the herbs used at Bradley Ogden, its chief chef says, the best come from the Pudwills’ two-acre farm in Sandy Valley. They drop off the plant cuttings at the restaurant on their way in to work.

“They are the most aromatic and floral herbs we’ve ever experienced in our careers,” says Todd Williams, the chef de cuisine in charge of Bradley Ogden. “Growing herbs is their passion. And they don’t come any fresher than theirs.”

When Bradley Ogden won new-restaurant-of-the-year honors in 2004 from the James Beard Foundation and was invited to New York to present a meal, the cooks took with them 34 containers of Pudwill’s herbs.

These are unusual bragging rights for a couple of career casino workers who were growing carrots and tomatoes in their Las Vegas back yard for years.

They started toying with herbs because “I like to cook and it’s so nice to step outside into your garden and get something fresh.”

One day in 2004 she recognized the player at her blackjack table as Bradley Ogden, and they struck up a conversation about food. She mentioned the herbs. “He looked at me very seriously and said ‘Bring some in.’ I said, ‘Oh no. We’re just back yard growers.’ ”

The next year the couple moved to Sandy Valley, where they could toil on two acres, a kind of therapy after a day of dealing with gamblers.

Finally, Paula mustered the courage to take Bradley Ogden 12 containers of herbs. “I sneaked into the kitchen and dropped them off with a note that said ‘If you like these, call me,’ and ran out the door.”

The call came immediately: Wow. Please be our herb vendor.

Since then, the couple has lined up other clients, including Car-

nevino at the Palazzo, B&B and Delmonico at the Venetian, and Nora’s Cuisine on West Flamingo.

The secret to growing good herbs? Rodney says theirs benefit from desert well water versus city chlorinated water, and because he prepares the soil with compost made of the leftover cuttings from the raw vegetables chefs use in restaurant meals. “I am continually working on the soil,” he says.

The Pudwills now do business as Penguin Produce, and Paula says the company’s income is about a third what she makes as a blackjack dealer. When their farm is dormant during the winter, chefs buy herbs elsewhere — and they arrive several days old.

The couple grows about 60 kinds of herbs — six or seven kinds of basil, four kinds of sage, three kinds of thyme, 14 kinds of mint, plus egg plants, peppers ...

Todd Williams now wants the Pudwills to grow kirby cucumbers, which the chef needs for his grandmother’s pickle recipe.

“I can’t find the seed anywhere in my catalogs,” she said.

“I told him, ‘Look, when you get them in, give me one so I can at least take the seeds.’ ”

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