By all accounts, the 4th Annual Vegas Uncork'd, presented by Bon Appetit, was the biggest and best yet. This was my first Uncork'd, so I was curious to see if it could live up to all the pre-event hype. It did, and then some.
The weekend got off to a festive start with an opening reception hosted by Bon Appétit's Editor in Chief, Barbara Fairchild, at miX on top of THEhotel. Master chef Alain Ducasse used a sabre to open a bottle of Champagne with explosive results, and Uncork'd was officially underway. It was like being in chefophile heaven. "Chef of the Century," Joel Robuchon was joined by such culinary superstars as Bobby Flay, Hubert Keller, and Cat Cora, just to name a few of the headliners.
I had a chance to chat with Julie Murry, the CEO of Three Square, the official charity partner for Vegas Uncork'd. This event raises much-needed funds for Southern Nevada's only food bank, and Julie couldn't say enough about how gracious the chefs were with their time and energy.
After the reception we got a behind the scenes tour of the various Masters' Series Dinners at Caesars Palace, hosted by Rao's, Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, Restaurant Guy Savoy, and our final dinner destination, Bradley Ogden. It was great seeing what was going into all the diverse menus the chefs had prepared.
Watching all the various plates and platters going by, it was clear these chefs were not about to be outdone by each other. They understood what a special showcase this was, and the guests were the beneficiaries.
Day one came to a wonderful end with a Sushi and Sake Celebration at the ultra-slick and very sexy Shibuya in the MGM Grand. If it's possible for something to be decadent and demure at the same time, this was. As several lovely young ladies danced on the bar in furry white bikinis, revelers snacked on oysters and sushi, washed down with a seemingly endless variety of sake.
Day two started with a very special Masters' Series Lunch hosted by Bon Appetit's Barbara Fairchild, and featured the one and only Wolfgang Puck, showing off his considerable skills at CUT, his new American steakhouse in The Palazzo. It was a magnificent meal, prepared by a chef still very much on top of his game. The steak was amazing, but it was a banana cream pie-inspired dessert that stole the show.
Then it was off to Cocktails and Cuisine at the Wynnn/Encore. Bon Appétit's Steve Olson, the Wynn's Patricia Richards, and the Michael Jordon of modern mixologists, Tony Abou-Ganim, demonstrated five amazing, Italian-inspired cocktails, which were each paired with beautiful bites from chefs James Benson and Theo Schoenegger. The event started off with perfectly made white peach bellinis, and just kept getting better from there.
As great as the Puck lunch and Cocktails and Cuisine were, the highlight of day two had to be the epic Grand Tasting, held at the Garden of the Gods Pool in Caesars Palace. Fifty of the city's top restaurants set up stations around the glistening pool, most also featuring their star chef to explain what was being served, as well as to pose for pictures.
There really were too many outstanding bites and sips to name, and I can say with all sincerity that for me, this event alone is reason enough to attend Uncork'd. Had the statue of Bacchus suddenly come to life, I can't help but think he would have been very impressed.
The night ended with a Celebrity Chef Blackjack Tournament, held poolside at the Encore. It was so interesting to watch the chefs (a competitive breed by nature) interact with each other, feigning cordiality, while trying their best to crush each other and take the prize. Paul Bartolotta, chef at Bartolotta Ristorante Di Mare, and now suspected card counter, won for the third year in a row, much to the chagrin of his fellow chefs.
While the night officially ended with the blackjack tournament, it unofficially ended way too late at the properties signature nightclub, XS. Besides a few people mistaking me for an undercover cop, it was a fun time letting loose with fellow reporter and bloggers. By the way, one tip to anyone organizing a food and wine event - invite lots of food bloggers, they're the life of the party!
While day two seemed like a tough act to follow, day three turned out to be just as much fun. I attended Culinary Theater: All the Kitchen's a Stage, which featured a sort of Top Chef Masters rematch between Rick Moonen, Hubert Keller, and Susan Feniger.
The event took place at Moonen's RM Seafood in the Mandalay Bay. He attempted to redeem himself with another go at what he calls, "Moon Doggies." These spicy shrimp mousse corndogs were not a hit with the judges on TCM, but the chef showed everyone in attendance how delicious they really were when given enough time to prepare properly.
Hubert Keller was up next and did his famous lobster macaroni and cheese. If you're a fan of the show, you may remember him having to use a dorm room shower to drain the pasta. I'm happy to report a regular sink was used this time, and the dish was as rich and tasty as you'd imagine.
Lastly, street food expert Susan Feniger from the Border Grill, made a beautiful ceviche, served on crunchy, fried plantain chips. It also happened to be Feniger's birthday, and the other chefs led the room in a spirited rendition of Happy Birthday. She was also toasted with cold beer and warm ribbing by her two competitors.
I have to give a shout out to Bon Appetit's Andrew Knowlton, who hosted the event. In addition to somehow keeping the proceedings on track (no easy feet with those three personalities on the same stage), Knowlton also went above and beyond the call of duty; personally making sure all the guests at this standing-room-only event got to taste all the dishes.
All weekend I noticed reps from Bon Appetit and Uncork'd shoulder-to-shoulder with guests and chefs alike, making sure everyone was taken care of and having a good time. It's that type of culinary camaraderie that's at the heart of Uncork'd's success.
The last formal meal of the weekend was an amazing dinner at Chef Michael Mina's StripSteak in the Mandalay Bay. This is a gorgeous, modern American steakhouse, and the food was truly exceptional. Any restaurant that starts each table out with a complimentary order of duck fat fried potatoes is clearly showing they know what they're doing.
Uncork'd ended around the pool at the Palazzo with Crushed: Wine That Rocks. In addition to the usual stellar food and drink, and wall-to-wall culinary celebs, this event featured restaurateur and winemaker, Joe Bastianich who sat in with the band Six Foot Nurse. Also on stage was Scott Ian of Anthrax. It was fun, surreal, and very Vegas!
I got there late, and after three days of non-stop eating and drinking, my only real goal was to not fall in the pool. As I sipped my last Stella in the warm, dry breeze, listening to the band finish with a dead-on Led Zeppelin medley, two thoughts came to mind... how much more I enjoyed music before autotune was invented, and what a truly fantastic weekend of food and drink it had been.
Thanks to Bon Appetit, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, R&R Partners, and everyone else involved with making my trip to Vegas Uncork'd possible. It was every bit as much fun as I'd heard, and I can't wait for the next one. Cheers!
Photos (c) John Mitzewich