Toni Guyer | Age: 29 | Hometown: Elko, Nevada

"I tend to think food should be able to speak for itself."—Toni Guyer
"I tend to think food should be able to speak for itself."—Toni Guyer

Toni Guyer’s secret weapon: butter. “The boys in the kitchen all tease me about it,” she says, with a nod to the quart tubs lined up at her fish station in the Paley Place’s kitchen. “I go through about three of these a night.” She laughs and then quickly returns her attention to the stove, where she’s pan-searing the world’s most perfect scallop. Guyer’s love for straightforward yet luxurious ingredients isn’t groundbreaking—but her preternatural focus and appetite for technical excellence help the Nevada-born chef shine with deceptively simple bistro fare that hits every pleasure center. 

After a decade of cooking in some of the most strictly regimented French kitchens in Las Vegas (“we kept rulers in our knife kits,” she remembers), transitioning to Vitaly Paley’s more collaborative environment in 2012 was a culture shock akin to an army private getting air-dropped into a hippie commune. “It took me a
few weeks to stop asking permission to do everything in the kitchen,” she says. “Now, I love the creativity—being able to walk into the kitchen and not know what I’m going to cook today.” Guyer’s seasonally based food freedom has inspired her to move in a more rustic direction; her creamy yet delicate plates of irresistible seafood have already started showing up on the Paley’s Place menu. “She is one of our very best line cooks—probably one of the very best ever,” Paley says, vaulting her into some truly exceptional company. “[She’s] so well trained, professional, knowledgeable, and consistent, but so calm under pressure, he says. “When you put all those attributes together, it’s amazing.”

• TONI’S Résumé: Line cook at Paley’s Place; sous-chef at Las Vegas MGM Grand’s private dining room Joël Robuchon at the Mansion; line cook at Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

• Food Fantasy: True to her training, she envisions a small, seafood-focused French bistro. “She’s steady. And she’s meticulous. Honestly? I see Toni taking my job,” says Paley’s Place executive chef Patrick McKee. “Not that I’m going anywhere right now.” 

• Signature Dish: Guyer’s perfect scallop ends up alongside a few spears of emerald asparagus atop a bed of orzo with a surprisingly delicate camembert sauce, studded with thick nubs of bacon and bright, acidic slips of ruby-red tomato she dried in the oven for six hours. With dishes like these, she’s a master at balancing clean, harmonious flavors and over-the-top comfort.

• Why She’ll Rule: “As a woman, to thrive in a staunch, French traditionalist kitchen [like Robuchon] you have to have balls. Or you grow some quickly,” Paley says with admiration. That character assessment just makes Guyer giggle: “You have to strike first,” she says of her strategy of razzing her way to her male coworkers’ hearts. “It’s like what they say about when you go to prison: you get in a fight with the biggest guy there first.”