SAVOURING SIN CITY
The Vancouver Sun
The Las Vegas Strip glitters brighter than ever with all the Michelin stars. No longer a town of cheap buffets (deflated prices, inflated waistlines), it’s now dense with celebrity chefs.
And with 42 million visitors a year needing sustenance, Vegas has become an “it” city for foodies. For restaurateurs, it’s a lucrative gig — as the first one to drop anchor, Wolfgang Puck, discovered in 1992 after settling into Caesars Palace.
Over the past couple of decades, culinary royals became part of luxury hotel branding, in some cases, it’s not one, but two or three famous chefs. They include Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, Giada De Laurentiis, Alain Ducasse, Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay, Pierre Gagnaire (I had to go to Paris to eat his food before), Hubert Keller, Emeril Lagasse, Michael Mina, Rick Moonen, Masaharu Morimoto, Nobu Matsuhisa, Charlie Palmer, Francois Payard, Gordon Ramsay, Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Julian Serrano, Masa Takayama, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
In late 2016, David Chang brings Momofuku and Milk Bar. Recently, restaurant icon Danny Meyer plunked one of his casual Shake Shacks on the Strip.
“There’s nothing like the concentration of high-end restaurants as in Las Vegas,” Mina of the namesake restaurant at the Bellagio Hotel said in a phone interview recently.
“It’s funny, you used to have to go to New York to check out new restaurants and ideas but now you go to Las Vegas first because there’s so much happening in the way of food, design and concepts.” Mina operates 28 restaurants.
Is it any wonder that Bon Appétit magazine puts on the extravagant star-studded Vegas Uncork’d every year? I attended the most recent event and was staggered by the gigawatts of chef energy.
These chefs are commonly busy tending to other restaurants in other cities but they home in on this event appearing at brunches, lunches and dinners, cooking, shaking cocktails, speaking on panels, and even serving food at The Grand Tasting. The latter is like a super luxe food court, staged around the luxurious pool at Caesars Palace; over 2,000 guests were served by many of the celebrity chefs.
Ramsay had three stations representing his three Las Vegas restaurants and sprinted between them all, followed by breathless fans wanting photos with him. (His lamb stew was delicious.)
Susan Feniger of Border Grill has been involved in Vegas Uncork’d from the beginning.
“At that point, we were getting the celebrity chefs coming in, changing the focus from buffets and cheap eats. I think Uncork’d shows that Vegas is a culinary destination,” she said in an interview. “It’s a fantastic few days and people have a great time.”
Feniger was at her kiosk serving scallops with Mexican-flavoured couscous and a brownie ice cream sandwich with Negra Modelo beer ice cream.
With the combo of free-flowing alcohol and crowds walking at water’s edge you’d expect at least one misstep into the wet. Perhaps the food soaked up the alcohol and cut into the drinking time helping with sobriety.
“I can’t imagine people not falling in,” mused Feniger, “but you don’t see a lot of sloppy drunks at the event.”
Over the course of Uncork’d I had a dinner with Savoy; I swanned at a caviar, crab and champagne (and much, much more) brunch at Buddy V’s Ristorante; had another elegant brunch at De Laurentiis’ restaurant, Giada; I heard presentations by pastry chef Payard and Savoy; laughed through a very entertaining high-energy cooking demo by Ramsay; I loved the off-the-Strip culinary tour of the funky Downtown with Bon Appétit deputy editor, Andrew Knowlton; as well as experiencing an evening of food, drinks and entertainment at the Downtown Container Park (a cool new downtown area with food and shops).
Other events included sushi-making with Matsuhisa as well as an omakase dinner by him; a vegetarian lunch with Boulud; pastry-making with Payard; cocktails with Salvatore Calabrese, one of the world’s leading bartenders; and a high-end tequila tasting dinner with Feniger and Sue Milliken of The Border Grill.
For foodies, Vegas Uncork’d is a pretty amazing opportunity to get up close (but maybe not so personal) with famous chefs and take a selfie or two with a Who’s Who of the food world.
© 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.