Vegas Uncork'd: Robuchon, Negronis and the 'Grand Tasting'

May 8, 2010


Sitting down with Joël Robuchon

The 4th Annual "Vegas Uncork'd" is underway, with culinary talent from all over the globe descending upon Sin City. The annual event, always held Mother's Day Weekend, is presented by Bon Appétit Magazine, and brings together chefs, sommeliers, cocktail experts and tastemakers from all over the world; a series of classes, seminars and special dinners is going on simultaneously at six different casino properties.

The event mirrors, in some ways, the culinary events in Pebble Beach, Aspen and Chicago. Part of the reason is exposure to a loyal audience of foodies and wine enthusiasts, but the other reason is tourism. Just as Nevada has been hard-hit with foreclosures and mortgage-related debt, so too, have the fortunes of the state reflected on the tourism business in Las Vegas. This culinary event -- the longest of its kind in the country, spanning four days -- is remarkable in that it commands attention from such notable European chefs as Joël Robuchon, Pierre Gagnier and Guy Savoy (also because they own restaurants here).

Robuchon himself led a cooking class at his L'Atelier restaurant at the MGM here on Friday, with guests perched at a long food bar, as they watched the master -- via a French translator -- prepare delicate langoustines wrapped in phyllo dough, as well as seared kobe beef with spring vegetables. After the class, they moved next door to his higher-end namesake restaurant, which just won a Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest this week, as guests got to have some champagne and mingle with Robuchon, in their best high school French. They then went back over to L'Atelier for an exquisite lunch.

In the afternoon, about 200 guests filled a ballroom at the Encore, to see two of the nation's top mixologists -- Steven Olson and Tony Abou-Ganim -- teach a class of enthusiasts how to make Bellinis, Negronis and other hand-crafted cocktails. Not only did they get to take home Abou-Ganim's new book, "The Modern Mixologist," they also bagged a stash of bar chef essentials: Boston shakers, strainers, bar spoons and stainless steel jiggers for measuring.

Later that night, more than 60 of the area's top chefs and restaurateurs -- including some off-Strip gems such as Lotus of Siam -- filled the pool area of Caesars Palace, for the annual "Grand Tasting." This $175 ticket gave foodies a chance to rub elbows up close with top chefs (perhaps a little too close, logjams and bottlenecks prevailed) and taste some of the latest offerings from nearly every notable restaurant in the city.

By 10:30 p.m., as people grabbed the last few scoops of gelato, Belgian chocolate and other sweets, a chef contingent made its way back to the Encore, where a group of the city's top chefs played some serious blackjack outside; the thumping music from the XS Club next door could be heard clearly through the trees. Milwaukee native, and former Spiaggia Executive Chef Paul Bartolotta -- his namesake Italian seafood restaurant resides at the Wynn next door -- came out on top, repeating his performance from a year ago, taking home the $5,000 prize. It's Vegas, baby. Incidentally, if you're ever planning to visit Vegas, be sure to check out my colleague John Curtas' well-researched blog, Eating Las Vegas. I always consult with ELV before I make a trip out there, as Curtas manages to feast on both the Strip, as well as the great off-Strip restaurants that define the city.