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By: Elsie Méndez @sabormexico
Until a few years ago, Las Vegas had always been synonymous in my mind with games and shows. But for 10 years now, gastronomy and haute cuisine have become part of the activities that the so-called “City of Sin” offers its visitors.
A collection of Chefs and Cooks from the most exquisite and sophisticated kitchens have found a paradise in Las Vegas, where thousands of people seek, in addition to the activities for which this city was recognized, the pleasure of a good dish and the delight of a unsurpassed culinary experience.
All in the month of May, Alain Ducasse, Wolfgang Puck, Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse arrived in Las Vegas along with the grand arrival of famed Gordon Ramsay. Las Vegas not only has the best chefs, but its culinary offerings are so diverse and complete that few cities in the world can compare.
To celebrate and share the success of all of these personalities, Bon Appetit Magazine created a Festival six years ago called Vegas Uncork’d in which Chefs, Cooks, Wine Experts, Brewers, Producers and, of course, lovers of good food all meet for four days.
More than thirty activities were carried out in four of the hotels that hosted this sixth edition; Caesars Palace, Bellagio, The Cosmopolitan and Mandalay Bay, all offered exclusive breakfasts, lunches and dinners as well as tastings and a poker tournament with celebrities from the culinary world, enjoying hip Food Trucks.
To start the first day of activities of this festival, a brunch was offered at Spago by Chef Wolfgang Puck, who was one of the first to open an author’s restaurant in this city in 1992. We had the opportunity to celebrate the first 20 years of success of this space with a 3-course meal that included an Austrian white asparagus salad harmonized with a white wine Hirtzberg, Grüner Veltliner “Axpoint” Smaragd from Wachau, Austria 2009. We continued with a grilled sea bass (or robalo) with fennel salad, purple onion, basil vinaigrette and olive oil harmonized with a Pinot Noir, Williams – Selyem, Russian River Valley California 2010. For dessert a marqueta of strawberries, panna cotta vanilla and mint syrup. It was simply extraordinary! It should be noted that Pinot Noir has just entered the list of our favorite wines in the world.
Later for dinner there were special tasting menus for the festival that were offered by many important chefs and restaurants including: the master chefs of Caesars Palace Bobby Flay, restaurant Mesa Grill; Guy Savoy, Guy Savoy Restaurant: Michael Richard, Central Restaurant, Francois Payard in Payard and Frank Pellegrino de Raos. The main value was that the chefs were at the front of the kitchen and we had the opportunity to greet them and even talk with them. This is what makes this festival special.
The day before, we had gone to the Michael Richard Central and frankly we found an overvalued restaurant with a very regular meal compared to what we expected. We first heard about it all the way on the other side of the country in New York. And we came to find that in addition to the underwhelming food, there was very bad service. Especially taking into account that there were only four tables in whole place.
For dinner we selected Chef Rick Moone’s RM, which surprised us with a fabulous and exquisite five-course menu, where we could once again enjoy the Pinot Noir that we had just discovered. Chef Moone is recognized as one of the best Chefs with his concept of fish and seafood.
Located in the hotel Mandalay Bay the same restaurant has two spaces where you can enjoy its creations. In the lower part of the restaurant there is a relaxed, more casual concept with dishes à la carte. The upper part is an exclusive area with tasting menus harmonized with the best wines.
Chef Moone also includes Mexican recipes and ingredients in his menu and dishes such as the corn bread in the bread basket and a very wide selection of Mezcales, that we had the opportunity to talk with him about. This confirms the great acceptance that exists today throughout the world for Mexican cuisine and its products.
Later in the night, in the facilities of Bellagio in Hidden Drive, the popular food trucks were presented, to taste the work of Chefs Akira Back, Jean Georges Vongerichten, Julian Serrano, Michel Mina, Royden Ellamar and Todd English. They served the food themselves, which was a very special touch. We would have liked to stay longer because it is impossible to try to eat so many things in one night, and it was perhaps for that same reason that it was not as busy as the exclusive dinners.
For the second day, the meals and events were distributed among the four participating hotels, one of which the Mandalay Bay presented a class of Mexican Cuisine and Cocktails with Patron Tequila, with Chefs Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Milliken, and Executive Chef Michael Minor. The guests tasted a four-course menu harmonized with tequila. Of course it was not in our interest to eat something that we have an authentic version of in Mexico, but again it reaffirms the great importance of Mexican cuisine in the U.S.
I can’t help but wonder why Bon Appettit Editor-In-Chief, Adam Rapoport, is not looking for one of the thousands of Mexican Chefs who lives in the United States to represent Mexican cuisine. Not to mention the dozen Mexican Chefs located in Las Vegas, that could have been part of this presentation. Many of them are celebrities and are up to par with the Chefs involved in Vegas Uncork’d. Or better yet, why not invite Enrique Olvera, newly awarded by San Pellegrino, to be part of this activity? It would have been a distinctive touch without a doubt. Could it be that the editor does not think we are not up to it… I wonder.
But what better way to enjoy a traditional paella by Spanish Chef José Andrés in his restaurant, Jaleo. And even better to be able to talk with him, one of the most successful gastronomic entrepreneurs in the world. José Andres not only prepared it, but he also served it personally. He served mezcal that he brought from China Poblano, also from his property and in the same hotel, The Cosmopolitan, and with very good Spanish wines that we enjoyed. It was a fun and very tasty evening.
For nighttime, The Grand Tasting event was presented in the gardens and pool area of the Caesars Palace Hotel. It was a wonderful tasting where all the restaurants, wineries, breweries, and distilleries offer snacks of their specialties. There were notably fewer Chefs and restaurants and also fewer attendees from the previous year. Although the reports say otherwise, we remember that it was impossible to walk around in 2011 and we did not stop talking with the famous Chefs. And this year it was very different. It’s a shame because in our opinion this is the best moment of the whole festival where the attendees can enjoy all the Chefs and their creations, and again be with them as they are serving and talking.
The Celebrity Poker Tournament took place at The Cosmopolitan. Unlike 2011, we also found it less crowded, and if playing was not part of the plan, both the snacks and the music and drinks seemed less exquisite and fun. On this occasion the cost of the ticket was not worth it, even as an observer.
For the third day, sommeliers and mixologists were present. At the Bellagio, Jason Smith, Master Sommelier and Wine Director, together with Dave Lynch, Wine Editor and collaborator of the magazine Bon Appétit, presented a tasting with three of the best wine producers in the world and a round table to learn and share the Cabernet Sauvignons.
The lunches and dinners and for this day could not be missed. Chef Alain Ducasse presented a 5-course menu harmonized with Champagne at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, among others that were part of the festival program. To close the night, Chefs Alain Ducasse, Hubert Keller and Vincent Pilon, Master Chef and Chocolatier, offered sandwiches with live music until late in the night.
Although it did not appear as part of the 2012 Vegas Uncork’d festival program, the renowned British Chef Gordon Ramsay was present at the Caesars Palace Grand Tasting because he opened his first restaurant in Vegas at the Paris Hotel. For fans like us, the best moment of the four days of culinary celebrations was seeing him in action.
It took Chef Ramsey two years of negotiations and preparations to open his restaurant in this city but finally Las Vegas visitors are able to taste a contemporary, fresh and innovative menu in an environment of minimalist and elegant design.
Undoubtedly Las Vegas has everything that any traveler looks for, but in particular its culinary offer is unmatched and with the entry of Chef Ramsay, the new opening of Nobu and Javier’s, there will be no place that can compete.