LAS VEGAS — At one time Las Vegas was synonymous with free drinks and $4.99 all-you-can-eat buffets. After all, you didn’t come here for the food; you came here to gamble.
Times have changed. Now tourists come to Vegas for the ‘food porn,’ with perhaps the most comprehensive collection of celebrity chefs and world-class restaurants than any other city in the world.
It all started with Wolfgang Puck, the first celeb chef to open shop in Vegas more than 20 years ago, with his flagship restaurant Spago in Caesars’ Forum Shops.
Since then Vegas has evolved into a true foodie destination. And Vegas Uncork’d – an annual four-day food, wine and spirits festival presented by Bon Appetit, now in its 11th year – celebrates this reinvention.
This year’s event saw some of the world’s top culinary talent – including Alain Ducasse, Bobby Flay, Buddy ‘Cake Boss’ Valastro, Giada De Laurentiis, Gordon Ramsay, José Andrés, Julian Serrano, Michael Mina, Nobu Matsuhisa, Tom Colicchio, Charlie Palmer and Wolfgang Puck – showcase their signature dishes.
Kicking off ‘The Grand Tasting’ on April 28 was an announcement by multi-Michelin star chef and television personality Gordon Ramsay. “We are opening the most amazing Hell’s Kitchen restaurant here at Caesars Palace,” he told a crowd of media and onlookers. This marks Ramsay’s fifth Las Vegas restaurant and extends his partnership with Caesars Entertainment.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” he said, “but more importantly the position of that restaurant is going to be magnificent, it’s going to be set like a studio, it’s going to have the infamous red kitchen, blue kitchen … catching the live essence of that magic that’s gone into 19 seasons of Hell’s Kitchen.”
Ramsay then ignited a 17-foot pitchfork – transported from the set of his hit TV show – in the centre of Caesars’ fountains. The new restaurant, slated to open this winter, will seat nearly 300 guests, feature indoor and Strip-adjacent patio dining and offer a daily themed brunch, dinner and bar menu – featuring several dishes featured on the show.
‘The Grand Tasting’ followed in the Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis at Caesars Palace, where food enthusiasts gathered for an “epicurean experience of a lifetime,” with more than 50 chefs and 2,500 paying guests (tickets cost US$260). Dishes ranged from Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill’s fish and chips to TAO Asian Bistro’s crispy pork bao buns and Eggslut’s egg, cheese and cream concoction in a mini-jar.
Vegas Uncork’d also featured intimate tastings for ticketholders, including brunch with celebrity chef and New York Times best-selling author Giada De Laurentiis. The brunch, served at her first and only namesake restaurant, GIADA at The Cromwell, included four courses showcasing her California-inspired Italian cuisine with chia seed parfait, waldorf panzanella salad, salmon cake benedict and rose semifreddo.
When asked why she chose to open her namesake restaurant here in Vegas, she pointed to the view of the Strip from her restaurant windows: “For this.”
Giada is one of the few female celebrity chefs on the Strip – and was given an opportunity to build a restaurant from scratch, which is a rarity in Vegas. “Vegas is like Disneyland for adults,” Giada told a group of media during the brunch. “I couldn’t do this in any other city in the world – it would be gimmicky.” During Vegas Uncork’d, she also revealed plans for a second restaurant in Vegas, one which will offer more casual dining.
Other chefs also hosted intimate tastings, including Bobby Flay of Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace, who treated guests to a three-course brunch, and Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu, also in Caesars Palace, who showed guests his inventive approach to sushi-making that fuses classic techniques with unexpected ingredients.
New to Vegas Uncork’d this year was ‘Picnic in The Park,’ at MGM Resorts International’s newest outdoor dining and entertainment district, featuring chefs such as Alain Ducasse, Charlie Palmer, Michael Mina, Julian Serrano, Tom Colicchio, Shawn McClain, Rick Moonen, Roy Ellamar, Akira Back, Bryce Shuman and David Werly.
Highlighting the new outdoor event venue between Monte Carlo and New York-New York, ‘Picnic in The Park’ offered creative twists on classic picnic dishes, along with champagne provided by Veuve Clicquot. Plus, there was giant Jenga, cornhole and croquet.
This was followed by ‘Sweet Escape: An Evening of Buddy, Beignets, Bonbons & Booze’ at The Palazzo’s Aquatic Club, featuring baker and TV personality Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro. The event brought together chefs from restaurants in The Venetian and The Palazzo – Buddy V’s Ristorante, Bouchon, Carnevino, Hong Kong Café, Lagasse’s Stadium, LAVO, Mercato della Pescheria, SushiSamba and TAO – to offer up their unique take on beignets or bonbons.
Following his appearance on the red carpet – which featured a backdrop of more than 2,000 doughnuts – Valastro spoke about his experience at Vegas Uncork’d.
“It’s a real surreal moment for me, you have the most amazing chefs from all over the world in one city … it’s a really humbling experience to be able to be in the presence of such amazing chefs,” he told the crowd.
Valastro opened his first restaurant, Buddy V’s Ristorante, in The Palazzo three years ago, which features home-style Italian cuisine with dishes based on favourite recipes from his mom, aunts and grandmother (not to mention the Cake Boss’s famous desserts, such as cannoli, Nutella cake and lobster tail pastry).
Also during the ‘Sweet Escape’ event, Valastro introduced Top Chef Masters’ Lorena Garcia, set to open her flagship restaurant Chica this Mother’s Day in Restaurant Row at The Venetian — perhaps the most anticipated restaurant to open in Vegas this spring.
“The day that I learned my flagship restaurant was going to be at The Venetian, I couldn’t contain my tears, I’ve been crying since then,” she told the crowd. Chica will feature Latin American cuisine with influences from her native Venezuela all the way to Argentina – including Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba and Mexico. Garcia will be the first female celebrity chef to share space in The Venetian alongside Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse.
Vegas Uncork’d will be back in 2018. In the meantime, foodies can travel to Vegas year-round to experience signature dishes from celebrity chefs in flagship restaurants – no gambling required.