bon appétit magazine
Vegas! Just the word of this dynamic destination in the middle of the Nevada desert conjures up colourful images of “The Rat Pack”, famous celebs, bling, quickie weddings, the nearby Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam, musicals, shows, music, high rollers and of course the casinos. But, it’s also a fabulous destination for excellent restaurants, exciting and innovative food as well as fine wines; and, just three weeks ago, I was lucky enough to make my first trip to Las Vegas, for a press trip covering the annual food and drink festival, Vegas Uncork’d by bon appétit magazine. Now, there are a couple of famous sayings about this stunning place, that go something like this…..“What happens here, stays here”, and “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, BUT, I am willing to spill the beans about what I got up to when I was there!
I was invited to Vegas as part of a small, international media group to enjoy, eat, drink and have fun not just around the city, Greater Vegas and “Downtown”, but also to attend the 10th Vegas Uncork’d food festival. Vegas Uncork’d is run in collaboration with bon appétit magazine, and the schedule was full of wonderful opportunities to meet top global celebrity chefs, try some outstanding food in their pop-up restaurants, as well as eat in local restaurants and wine bars, and visit some of the most iconic of Vegas places, such as Caesars Palace, The Bellagio, and The Venetian. We stayed in two of the top hotels situated on “The Strip” in Vegas, The Cosmoplitan of Las Vegas, which was just stunning, and also at Aria, which was equally impressive.
So, here it goes, here’s what I did, where I ate, where I drank champagne, as well as the special Vegas Uncork’d events I attended whilst I was there. I also went “off piste” in some free time that I had, and I will be covering that in a separate post, which will be all about VINTAGE VEGAS – and my trip to the Fremont Street Experience and the Neon Museum, also called the Neon Boneyard. But for now, sit back, grab a napkin and a wine glass, and savour the Vegas Uncork’d festival through my notes and photos……..
Vegas Uncork’d by bon appétit magazine 2017
Eat, Drink and be Merry!
The schedule for Vegas Uncork’d was wide and varied, and here’s the special events I attended as part of this year’s festival:
- Saber Off at The LINQ Promenade – The festival kicked off with a fun “Saber Off”, with many of the celebrity chefs who were attending the event, where they attempted to slice of the necks of numerous bottles of champagne with a saber! (PS: I’ve done this before, as you can see here: where I became a Maître-Sabreur) There was champagne, cocktails and other cooling libations on offer at the opening event, as well as lots of innovative and tasty amuse bouche and “picky” food to get you through until dinner later on.
2. Vegas Uncork’d Welcome Reception, at The Cosmopolitan in The Chandelier Bar – this was a wonderful way to start an evening of fine food and wine; here, Mariena Mercer, head mixologist extraordinaire, treated us to an array of mind (and taste) blowing cocktails, including her famous Verbena Cocktail – this unassuming looking cocktail has a secret garnish, namely the ” Szechuan button” – the edible flower buds of acmella oleracea, it is also called the “toothache plant”, although there were no toothaches going on after drinking one of these cocktails! You are advised to eat the bud first, and then quaff your cocktail, which I duly did, and WOW! Your tongue starts to tingle and it almost numbs your whole mouth – it was an extraordinary experience! I have discovered the cocktail recipe online, and if you can source some wee Szechuan buttons, then here’s the alchemist’s beverage listed here:
The Verbena Cocktail:
1½ ounces (40ml) Herradura Blanco tequila
1 ounce (25ml) ginger syrup
1 ounce (25ml) lemon juice
2 ounces (50ml) yuzu sour (such as Perfect Purée’s version)
1 Szechuan button flower (available as a “Buzz Button” at Fresh Origins)
– Shake all ingredients except the flower over ice. Strain over crushed ice into an old-fashioned glass and garnish with the Szechuan button.
As well as some spectacular amuse bouche that were served whilst we were all imbibing, I also enjoyed a second cocktail, the “Fire Breathing Dragon”, which is similar to a strawberry daiquiri, but is made with Thai chilli syrup, lemongrass syrup, and pink peppercorns; this is enjoyed with a side of liquid nitrogen frozen raspberries, which you eat before taking your first sip – you then exhale, and voila! You are blowing out frozen dragon’s breath – which we all loved, so a few more cocktails were taken, just for experimental purposes of course!
3. After a fun start to the evening, my next Vegas Uncork’d event, was dinner at the Old Homestead Steakhouse, which is situated in Caesars Palace, with owners Greg and Marc Sherry. Brothers Marc and Greg Sherry, whose family has been associated with Old Homestead in New York for decades, brings this classic eatery known for its quality steakhouse selections and legendary history to Vegas. Along with many other guests, I was treated to a Master Series evening of fine food with wine pairings, where steak, seafood and chocolate were the main protagonists. The menu for the evening comprised:
Rich Traditions with a New Twist
Prime Beef Carpaccio Salad
(with chocolate olive oil vinaigrette, cocoa nibs and Pinot gel)
White Chocolate Poached Maine Lobster
(with Black Truffle Gnocchi and Meyer Lemon Foam)
Dark Chocolate Rubbed New York Strip
(with Foie Gras Bread Pudding and Chocolate Mole)
Fudge Brownie Crunch
(with Peanut Butter Nougat and Warm Chocolate Sauce)
4. Lunch Like a Spaniard with JOSÉ ANDRÉS at Jaleo, The Cosmopolitan – what a fab event this was! We were there to xxperience a taste of Spain with Chef José Andrés. José as he prepared lagrima paella over a live fire pit in a dish-and-tell session, shared his favourite stories behind the unique restaurant’s menu items, like José’s Taco, a slice of jamon ibérico de bellota topped with osetra caviar and gold flakes; Coca con Erizas del Mar, crusty Spanish cristal bread topped with sea urchin, ibérico bacon and butter; and we all enjoyed a selection of GIANT Gin and Tonics and sangria as we ate his tapas specialities.
Some of the food was served, unusually, in shoes, clean of course, and the drinks and food flowed and kept on coming all afternoon…..
5. The Grand Tasting at Caesars Palace – set in the theatrical GARDEN OF THE GODS POOL OASIS in CAESARS PALACE, this was the big food event of Vegas Uncork’d; the general public, and media, mingled with the great and the good of the International culinary world, and there were a multitude of food and drink stations set up around the imposing columns and glittering pools.
The dramatic five-acre Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis at Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel & Casino featured more than fifty award-winning chefs and over one hundred of the best wines and spirits from around the world……you were given a plate, with a useful wine holder integrated into it, and off you went for the whole evening, wining and dining at your leisure.
I met Gordon Ramsay, and had a short chat with him, as well as Guy Savoy and Bobby Flay….I drank prosecco, champagne, numerous cocktails and ate some sublime food, the atmosphere was amazing with people from all over the States (and the world) enjoying themselves. The location was impressive, as was the diversity of all the “pop-up” food stalls that were there, from fish’n’chips to duck parfait, Italian and Korean meatballs, assorted cheeses and divine desserts piled high with chocolate, cream and berries, there was something for everyone to eat and enjoy, INCLUDING gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan, it was all there……as you can see from just a small selection of my photos…..
6. Picnic in the Park with some of MGM Resorts’ most notable chefs including Alain Ducasse, Charlie Palmer, Michael Mina, Julian Serrano, Tom Colicchio, Shawn McClain, Rick Moonen, Roy Ellamar, Akira Back and David Werly – Picnic in The Park was one of my favourite events – with creative twists on classic picnic dishes, Edible Gardens, a pig roast, cake pops and champagne provided by Veuve Clicquot, we were all encouraged to embrace our inner-child with a variety of games including giant Jenga and croquet. The centre piece was “Bliss Dance”, an elegant and imposing forty foot tall sculpture by artist Marco Cochrane, which was the focal point of The Park experience.
Located on the Las Vegas Strip between Monte Carlo and New York-New York, the event was filled with the most amazing freshly cooked food, lakes of champagne and fun! It was a hot day, and after we had eaten, we all collapsed outside the Veuve Clicquot Airstream bar, as you would!
On entering the Picnic in the Park, we were all given a picnic basket with a yellow Veuve Clicquot champagne flute, wooden cutlery, wooden plate, a place mat and a fabric napkin…..all you needed to do then, was to wander around the food stalls to fill your basket, and champagne flute!
7. Sweet Escape – An Evening with Buddy, Beignets, Bon Bons and Booze – Situated in the stunning Palazzo Pool Deck at The Palazzo, Lad Vegas, this was the perfect way to end the day after Picnic in the Park; TV personality Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro hosted the event, which was the ultimate way to enjoy the sweet side of life! On entering we were greeted with a wall of assorted doughnuts, which we were all invited to take away at the end of the evening, after being provided with bags! The poolside reception included lots of speciality cocktails, a live performance from the electrifying trio Simply Three, whom I loved, and a special appearance by Chef Lorena Garcia of Chica……again, like The Grand Tasting, the location was magical.
8. Little Italy from City to Strip, Rao’s Italian Brunch hosted by Rao’s owners Frank Pellegrino Jr and Ron Straci – an Italian brunch in Caesars Palace, what a great way to start the day! Rao’s is a NYC institution and they now have a restaurant in Vegas, which has been voted the best Italian in the destination several times since opening. The original Rao’s in New York City opened in 1896 and is one of the oldest family owned restaurants in the city. At this special event, we were greeted by the owners Frank Pellegrino Jr and Ron Straci, who talked through the menu for the day…..
Caesar Salad, Roasted Red Peppers, Lobster Oreganato, Pan-Seared Steak with sides of Baked Beefsteak Tomatoes, Asparagus and Parmigiano Reggiano, ending with Zeppoles and Blackberry Gelato, all accompanied by carefully matched Italian wines – SUBLIME! This was the last of our Vegas Uncork’d events, and what a way to finish!
As well as all of these events I attended for Vegas Uncork’d above, I also enjoyed many other bars and restaurants, which were hosted by individual hotels and resorts, as well as The High Roller, the Neon museum, a champagne vending machine…..but, I will cover all of these in another post, so PLEASE do keep popping back to see my next instalment of Eats and Sleeps in Vegas, which will also cover some fabulous Vintage Vegas stories and photos too! Vegas is an exciting place to visit all year around, but especially when Vegas Uncork’d is on, so make sure you bookmark it for 2018! I was captivated with Vegas, it wasn’t as tacky as I expected, and was quite elegant in places, with amazing places to visit, and not just on the culinary front. I hope you enjoy my tasting notes from the Vegas Uncork’d event, I’ll be back soon with more traveller’s tales and recipes, have a FAB weekend, Karen
With thanks to Kate O’Brien and Amy Scott of Hills Balfour, and Tamara Rocha and Erin McCleskey from R & R Partners for making this happen, as well as Virgin Atlantic, Vegas Uncork’d, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Aria Resort and numerous other hotels and restaurants mentioned above. I was the guest of Vegas Uncork’d, Hills Balfour and Las Vegas Tourism, as well as various hotels and resorts – all my flights, transfers, accommodation and meals were included, as well as all trips and extra excursions. With profound thanks to all the people and organisations that looked after me and made my trip so memorable and exciting.