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David Ross

James Beard Foundation comes to Las Vegas

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As many of you know, I'm a big supporter of the Las Vegas dining scene. Earlier this year I wrote a lengthy report on my experiences at the "Vegas Uncork'd" events sponsored by Bon Appetit Magazine.

In October, the James Beard Foundation is coming to Las Vegas to host the "Taste America" events. It's an exciting opportunity for Las Vegas to be the host city of such an impressive culinary event--and another feather in the cap of the city's chefs and restaurant community.

You can check out the calendar of events at;

http://www.jbftasteamerica.com/home

I'm looking forward to it and I'll be doing a full photo report for everyone. If you happen to be coming to Las Vegas for the events, let me know.

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Most of the Friday night private dinners at Taste America are being held at some of the well-known restaurants on the Strip, i.e. Alex, Bartolotta, Bradley Ogden, Rao's and Restaurant Charlie to name a few.

All good restaurants indeed, but I decided to book a seat at a restaurant that often gets overlooked in the frenzy of Las Vegas-Piero Selvaggio's Valentino at The Venetian.

How can one go wrong with two Beard Award winners in the house-Selvaggio and Chef Luciano Pellegrini-and a special "white truffle" menu created for our private dinner.

I'm looking forward to:

Mini Pizza al Tartufo

Fried Lobster Milanese with Spicy Aioli

Veal Tartate with Tartufo

Crostini with Quail Pate and Tartufo Nero

Fried Australian Spanner Crabcakes with Porcini Salad and White Truffle

Quail Meatloaf on Polenta with White Truffle

Fontina Stuffed Bucatini with Crescenza Sauce and White Truffle

Buffalo Medallion with White Wine Demi-Glace and White Truffle

Hot and Cold Cheese Soups with Mixed Fruit

Dessert (that's all the website lists for the finale. Hmm. Something with more White Truffles?)

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David, I'll probably pass on this conference. The only thing that interests me is the Sat. morning panel at UNLV with Alan Richman, Jeffrey Steingarten, et al. Who knows? I might drive out to see it. It would be a quick (real quick) weekend trip.

Have a great time!

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Thanks. Hope to maybe see you there. Should be interesting with the panel discussion of the Las Vegas dining scene, i.e., Richman and Steingarten et. al.

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What is the point? All of the restaurants here are laying people off left and right because of the economy. I know a few pastry chefs who had to dumb down their desserts considerably so anyone could plate them.

Also, why RAO's? There are probably three or four restaurants at Caesars alone I would pick over RAO's. That includes the forum shops.

And Charlie's is rumored to be closing its doors soon. I don't know if its true but I have been hearing it a lot over the past couple of months.

There are tons of other restaurants they could be checking out instead of that list, and they don't have to stick with the strip, there are some pretty good places off strip as well.

oh well, las vegas will always be hype.

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I appreciate your perspective, but I’m not in a position to give a credible answer as to the criteria that was used in selecting the restaurants for the Taste America events. Personally I think it’s an impressive list.

I can tell you that many of the host restaurants are the home to James Beard Award-Winning chefs and a number of James Beard Award winners will be attending the events in Las Vegas. In my book, the fact that The Beard Foundation is coming to Las Vegas and that many Beard Award-Winners will be in attendance gives the events a huge amount of credibility.

I am certainly aware of and sensitive to the state of the economy and how it’s had a negative effect on the hospitality industry in Las Vegas.

I had dinner at one of the top seafood restaurants in Las Vegas in late August and it pained me to see the large dining room empty except for our table of three.

In many ways, Las Vegas is a mirror that reflects both the good health and painful woes that afflict the country at large. It was very apparent to me on that night that the economic crisis facing America was hurting this restaurant.

Now, more than ever, is precisely the right time to celebrate the dedication and creativity of the chefs and employees who work in the Las Vegas restaurant trade. (For that matter, we should all be supporting our local restaurants through these tough times). That’s the point of the Beard Events in Las Vegas.

There has been a momentum building in the Las Vegas restaurant community over the past fifteen years that has brought the city to the forefront of great American dining destinations. I happen to believe that it’s vital that this momentum not die as the economy slows.

The Saturday night Gala Dinner will feature the cuisine of 13 James Beard Award-Winning Chefs. That’s what we see on the surface of the printed program at the table.

But if you take a deeper look, you’ll discover that the true mission of the Gala dinner, (and the Beard Foundation at large), is to promote Mr. Beard’s vision for the future of the culinary arts in America, (and in Las Vegas’s own backyard).

All of the proceeds raised through the ticket sales and items sold at the Saturday auction will benefit the James Beard Foundation. A portion of those proceeds will be used to fund a scholarship for an outstanding student or students majoring in the Culinary Arts Program at the University of Nevada Las Vegas-William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.

What often appears to be merely “hype” on the surface of Las Vegas is often later discovered to be something with incredible depth. In this case, we're not only celebrating Beard Award-Winning Chefs, we're doing our part to fund the education of future Beard Award-Winners.

I’ll be writing an in-depth photo report on the events.

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Prelude-

“Was it the White Truffles Chef Pellegrini asked?”

“Yes Chef, it was the white truffles, but that’s merely part of the reason why I’ll be dining with you at Valentino on Friday night.”

“Owing to the fact that you are a James Beard Award-Winning Chef-and our dinner is in celebration of the Beard Foundation-and given the impressive reputation of Mr. Selvaggio, I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to join you for a private dinner at Valentino at The Venetian.”

Now you don’t honestly believe that I was that suave in my reply to the Chef’s ominous question do you? I wasn’t’ at all suave.

The reality of the moment is that I was tongue-tied, my palms were sweaty and my hand melted when it met the rigid grip of Chef Luciano Pellegrini’s strong hands.

Adding to the scene of the nervous, lip-twitching Food Writer was the fact that Piero Selvaggio, (owner of Valentino restaurant and a James Beard Award-Winning Restaurateur in his own right), was standing just to my right.

Yet the Italians have a certain relaxed aura which helped my nerves fade away. I could have fumbled my words terribly and said something like-“um, Chef, I know you are famous for cooking spaghetti and I knew you won some awards so I thought your dinner would taste great”-and Chef Pellegrini and Mr. Selvaggio would have still been composed and gracious.

The occasion for my meeting Chef Pellegrini and Mr. Selvaggio came at a reception at the Wynn hotel sponsored by the Michelin Guide. (Lady luck was on my side and I snared an invitation from a friend who lives in Las Vegas).

It was a monumental week for the Las Vegas restaurant community-the “Rising Star Revue” sponsored by Star Chefs was held on Tuesday, October 21, followed by the Michelin reception on Wednesday, October 22, followed by the Taste America Events beginning on Friday, October 24.

And so the stage was set, (and I can thank the white truffle hunters of Alba, Italy, for breaking the ice), for three days of dining, imbibing and spirited conversation in celebration of James Beard and the efforts of the Beard Foundation.

Next-A "White Truffle Dinner" at Valentino........

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Friday, October 24, 2008-“Friday Night Festival Dinners,” “Valentino” at The Venetian-

The flight arrived at 2:30 p.m. PST time carrying a very important passenger. VIP travelers are a common sight in the terminals at McCarran International Airport. But on this autumn afternoon, one very precious, very rare VIP went unnoticed when it arrived-a small carton of fresh white truffles from the forests of Alba, Italy.

In a few more hours, this expensive jewel box of white truffles would be paired with lobster, veal, crab, quail, pasta, bison and cheese in dishes that would grace our table at Valentino restaurant at The Venetian. But it wasn’t the first box of white truffles that had been delivered to Valentino that week.

The first box of white truffles ordered by Chef Luciano Pellegrini had been delivered one day earlier-and the first shipment found a very different fate than the truffles that arrived a day later.

Chef Pellegrini later told me that the first shipment of white truffles did not measure up to what he expected for our private dinner. Upon inspection of the first shipment, he immediately called Italy to place another order. (I suppose the first shipment ended up in the staff meal-maybe a risotto with white truffles, a white truffle pappardelle perhaps?).

It was an expensive risk for the Chef to take-other than a phone call to Alba, there would be no guarantee that the second shipment of truffles would be up to Chef Pellegrini’s exacting standards.

At the time our truffles were purchased in October, they were selling in the range of $3,200.00 for 8oz., or a mere $6,400.00 per pound. Imagine buying not one box, but two boxes of fresh white truffles at that price point. At those prices, a Chef can’t settle for anything but the best.

While I can’t tell you for sure exactly how many truffles were showered over our dinner plates this evening-it tasted as though we had been served millions of dollars worth.

The window for delivery for the second shipment of truffles had now dwindled to no more than a couple of hours-if the weather over the Atlantic was turbulent, the flight would be delayed and the second box would arrive too late for our dinner.

Yet, as fate would have it, the white truffle hunters of Alba didn’t disappoint us and the second box of white truffles, glorious in their size and fragrant aroma, arrived to the welcoming hands of the Chefs and cooks at Valentino in time to prepare a delicious and memorable dinner.

Valentino and “The Grill at Valentino” are located just past the casino floor at the entry hall to what is called “Restaurant Row” at the Venetian.

The entrance to the restaurants is not flashy by Las Vegas standards-no wine angels hang from the rafters, there isn’t a waterfall spewing fire out front, and you won’t find a bevy of silky young ladies to entice you in.

But an alluring entre’ is not necessary at a restaurant that is confident and talented. (And has the James Beard Awards to prove it). At Valentino, the allure is found in the food, not the front door.

The more relaxed grill out front has a bar and small dining room that is open to the floods of people wandering to and fro-gamblers, tourists and the seemingly always rushing conventioneers-it is a relaxing oasis to sip a glass of Italian wine and tuck into a comfortable dish of pasta.

As is my custom, I was the first guest to arrive. I was met by Mr. Carlo Cannuscio, the hospitable General Manager of Mr. Selvaggio’s Las Vegas operations.

Our party of eleven guests included members from the James Beard Foundation in New York, public relations representatives from the Rosen Group of New York, two ladies representing the restaurants at The Venetian and The Palazzo, and Las Vegas Food Writer Al Mancini and his wife.

Our first introduction to the white truffles came as we gathered in The Grill for “Aperitivi” served with flutes of ‘Louis de Sacy, Brut Rose.’

The unmistakable, earthy and erotic scent of the white truffle wafted through the room as the waiters entered with silver trays holding forth the following-

-Mini Pizza al Tartufo

-Fried Lobster Milanese with Spicy Aioli

-Veal Tartar with Tartufo

-Crostini with Quail Pate and Tartufo Nero

I was visiting with some other guests when a waiter approached and asked us if we would like to try the “Crab Cakes.” We all looked a bit perplexed. The menu clearly said the seafood hors d’ouvre would be lobster; the crab would be served in the fish course at dinner. It didn’t taste like crab, it didn’t look like crab, and it was definitely lobster.

A few moments later, the same waiter returned with another tray of what he called “Crab Cakes.” At this point, it was clear that the poor fellow didn’t have a clue as to what he was serving.

When Chef Pellegrini came over to our group, he asked us how we liked the little bites. We discreetly mentioned to the Chef that the waiter had mistakenly called his lobster “crab cakes.” Chef was not at all pleased.

He promptly called the waiter over, and in front of the guests asked, “what is that, exactly, that you are serving?” The man was oblivious to his mistake and proudly stated that he was serving “crab cakes.” The room became very quiet.

Chef Pellegrini very firmly admonished the waiter, telling him to “go back into the kitchen and ask your Chef what, exactly, you are serving to your guests.”

We apologized for tattling on the waiter, but the Chef was pleased we had done so. “He has had this mistake before” Chef replied, “He is in need of a new passion!”

After being dressed down by the Chef, the disgraced sap quickly turned and took his tray back to the kitchen. We never saw him again that evening.

After admonishing the waiter, we turned to a more pleasant topic-the arrival of the white truffles earlier in the day and our dinner to come.

Sr. Cannuscio ushered us through the main dining room into one of the private rooms at Valentino that would be our home for the evening.

The walls of the dining room were lined with vintage bottles of wines held in safe-keeping for preferred customers. I would imagine that Mr. Beard would have loved this room-the host of the repast sitting at the head of the long table, drinking wine and sharing thoughts on the rapture of the white truffle with his special guests.

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Classic preparations for the evening’s wine services-

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The wines were masterfully paired to Chef Pellegrini’s cuisine-and the idiosyncrasies of the white truffles. (Pairing a prime grade strip loin is a far easier task than pairing wines that will enhance, yet not overpower, the white truffle).

I asked the Wine Director how he approached the obstacles presented by pairing the wines with Chef Pellegrini’s dishes. “I will build the aroma and flavor notes of the wines throughout the menu with the aromas of the white truffles.” For someone who is just beginning to appreciate how wine can enhance foods, it was a prophetic statement. Rather than focus first on the the flavor notes in the wines, his first objective was to focus on the bouquet of wines that would accent the aromas of the truffles. It was a grand success and the best wine pairings I’ve had in Las Vegas.

The first course, ‘Fresh Australian “Spanner” Crab Cakes with Porcini Salad and White Truffle’ accompanied by ‘Clerget, Les Chevalier, Meursault, 2000’-

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The Australian Spanner Crab, also called the “mud crab” down under, has a thick body and large front claws. The meat is tender, soft and mild in flavor-not as sweet as the Dungeness crabs that I am used to in the Pacific Northwest.

The shell of the Spanner Crab is incredibly hard and it takes special equipment at the cannery in Australia to crack the shell and extract the meat. As such, only the meat of the crab is shipped to the restaurant trade in America. (A very small trade in fact). Chef Pellegrini said that Valentino is one of only two restaurants in the country that import Australian Spanner Crab meat.

The crab stood up to the bold flavor of the truffles and the hearty texture of the porcini. The salad was simply dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and a scattering of roasted garlic and shreds of fresh sage.

The second course, ‘Quail Meatloaf on Polenta and White Truffle,’ accompanied by ‘Bergstrom, Cumberland Reserve, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2006’-

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The Quail “Meatloaf” was more of a warmed, country-style terrine with chunks of deliciously tender quail meat studded throughout the ground meat mixture. The meatloaf was blanketed with a sauce of reduced stock and covered with more white truffles than any one person should eat in a lifetime.

But my gracious comments about the food at Valentino up to this point must be tempered with some criticism for polenta. It was cold, sticky and gummy.

Polenta served in this type of dish should be thick and piping hot, flowing like hot lava yet with enough structure to hold up the meat at the center of the dish. It should be thin enough in texture so that it soaks up the luscious sauce-and it absolutely should not be stone cold-certainly not at a private dinner of friends of James Beard.

I recently ranted to a friend of mine who is a prominent Las Vegas Food Writer about the cold polenta-and even colder, gummier, risotto-that I’ve been served this year at private dinners at top restaurants in town. Attention must be paid to the details of technique in these popular, yet tricky side dishes.

As a native Oregonian and lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, I was pleased that the Wine Director paired an Oregon Pinot Noir with the quail in homage to Mr. Beard.

Mr. Beard lived long enough to see vineyards planted in the Willamette Valley in Western Oregon. Years later, I think he would be proud that the wine industry is one of Oregon’s largest agricultural commodities. Oregon Pinot Noir’s have won prestigious awards against fine French vintages-and have found their way to the tables of Las Vegas.

I can cast away the sins of the polenta in this course because the main focus of the dish, the quail, was delicious.

The pasta course, ‘Fontina Stuffed Bucatini with Crescenza Sauce and White Truffle’ accompanied by ‘Beni di Batasiolo, Riserva, Barolo, 2000’-

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The Chefs had obviously taken great care and a lot of time hand-crafting the long hollow tubes of bucatini pasta-a combination of tomato, traditional and spinach pastas.

This was a tricky dish. Both fontina and crescenza cheeses have a strong, almost bitter flavor. We wondered if Chef Pellegrini had pushed the flavors too far. But once again, the cheese, used in just the right amounts, didn’t overpower the white truffles.

It was a masterfully crafted dish and was raised to the upper echelons of pasta creations by, of course, the white truffles.

The meat course, ‘Buffalo Medallion with White Wine Demi-Glace and White Truffle’ accompanied by ‘Leone di Castris “Donna Lisa” Salice Salentino, 1995’-

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Chef Pellegrini procured the buffalo tenderloin from the ranch in North Dakota. It was incredibly tender and slightly sweet with no hint of gaminess.

Swirling white wine into the demi-glace gave the sauce a complimentary flavor to the delicate buffalo. (I think a red-wine based demi-glace would have been too heavy for the meat and truffles).

It was interesting watching the faces of the diners from New York who hadn’t ventured far enough West to have ever tasted buffalo. We all proclaimed it delicious.

The red cabbage to the side of the plate was, sadly, akin to the polenta served with the quail-cold, soft, limp in texture and lacking in the characteristic sweet and sour flavors of this winter vegetable side dish. A small detail, but a detraction no less.

The last two courses would be prove, at least in the eyes of the guests, to present the greatest challenge to Chef Pellegrini and the Wine Director-a cheese course with white truffles and dessert paired with white truffles.

The cheese course, ‘Cheese Three Ways, Hot, Cold and Crispy with Dried Fruit and Nuts’ accompanied by ‘Schlumberger, Vendanges Tardives, “Cuvee Christine” Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 2000’-

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By this point in the dinner, I was much more involved in dining, drinking and conversation than I was writing down the specific cheeses in this dish and how they were prepared. I do know that the “crispy” element came in the form of a parmesan crisp.

The white truffles were combined with fresh cheese in a form of gelato. I would call it an acquired taste-creamy and sweet yet with a strong, musty aroma and bittersweet taste. It was good, but probably not a dish I would order off a regular dessert menu.

The final course, dessert, ‘White Chocolate and Gianduja Truffle with Candied Asparagus, Sautéed Sugar Pumpkin and Orange Zabayon’ accompanied by ‘Ben Rye, Passito di Pantelleria, 2006’-

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The ‘truffle’ element of the dish was in fact a play on words. We had enjoyed white ‘truffles’ throughout dinner, yet in the dessert course the ‘truffle’ spoke to the sweet focal element of the dish.

As you can see from the photo, this wasn’t the small chocolate truffles one is familiar with. This ‘truffle’ was a big as a Christmas tree ornament-a shell of white chocolate holding a plush mousse of Gianduja, (hazelnut and almond pastes mixed with chocolate).

The truffle was sitting on top of a crisp chocolate cookie.

The candied asparagus was an afterthought-apparently intended to add something to the truffle-that only served as a distraction. It was a concept best left in the kitchen for another dish.

And while a bit more successful than the asparagus in terms of flavor, the sautéed sugar pumpkin wasn’t necessary-another small distraction in an otherwise delicious ending to dinner.

The ‘Passito di Pantelleria’ was my favorite wine of the evening-it reminded me of the ice wines from British Columbia.

The Wine Director said that the vines actually fall to the ground with the grapes still on them. The grapes dry on the vines, concentrating the sugars which results in a thick, almost syrupy wine with aromas of citrus.

I had never tasted white truffles prior to dinner at Valentino.

I have had the pleasure of tasting black truffles, and while they are certainly one of the most delicious of foods, the black truffle cannot compare to his more sophisticated cousin the white truffle.

During dinner, we went around the table and each guest described what the white truffle tasted like. I said the “white truffle is sexy and alluring while the black truffle is bold and heady.” Indeed.

I now admit that I am in love-the taste memories of the evening will stay with me forever.

The feast of the white truffle was over and the smiles on the faces of the guests pleased Chef Pellegrini and his staff to no end.

Mr. Beard had an affinity for truffles decades before most Americans even knew what they were.

In “The New James Beard,” cookbook, Knopf-1981, in his recipe for “Risotto with White Truffles,” Beard instructed the cook to “Garnish the top of the cooked risotto with thin shavings of fresh white truffles.” In a voice only Beard could lend to the written word, he went on to say that white truffles “are in season late in the year and are madly expensive, but worth the splurge.”

Going back as far as 1949, Beard was teaching America about unique and unheard of ingredients. In the “Fireside Cookbook,” Simon and Schuster, Mr. Beard wrote in part that “A white truffle from Italy has a distinct garlic odor.”

As my story unfolds over the course of the next two days, my relationship with Mr. Beard, celebrating American Cuisine and The Fireside Cookbook would come full circle.

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Fine report, as always, David. Too bad about the polenta and the other poor sides. While it does not appear to have been the case for you with this meal, that is often enough to ruin a meal.

Passitos are wonderful wines. Italian dessert wines don't get enough attention IMO.

I noticed in one of your photos bottles of Gaja wines. Were they just decoration or did you get to drink any?

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Fine report, as always, David. Too bad about the polenta and the other poor sides. While it does not appear to have been the case for you with this meal, that is often enough to ruin a meal.

Passitos are wonderful wines. Italian dessert wines don't get enough attention IMO.

I noticed in one of your photos bottles of Gaja wines. Were they just decoration or did you get to drink any?

Thanks. The Gaja wines were just on display.

Poor side dishes can be the death of a great meal. At this level you wouldn't expect that would be the case. I suppose a similar example would be the cast of a top Broadway musical-the star of the show could shine, but if the supporting is cast is off one night, the audience notices and may not give the show a great review. I guess I'm just too particular about details.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008-“From Hot Buffets to Haute Cuisine: Defining an American Food City and the Culinary Transformation of Las Vegas,” Panel Discussion at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas-

The cool, crisp air of Saturday morning helped me shake off the disagreeable after-effects of the Barolo at Valentino the previous evening. I was off to the University of Nevada Las Vegas for some schooling about the state of the Las Vegas restaurant community.

A week earlier, as I was packing for my trip to Las Vegas, a thought came to mind-I’m going to attend some special events in honor of Mr. Beard, so why not take my most cherished Beard cookbook along for the journey? I tucked “The Fireside Cookbook” into my carry-on for the journey South.

Grandmother Ross had purchased “The Fireside Cookbook” as a first edition when it was published some 60 years ago. I think she bought the book more out of pride for the State of Oregon, (we share our native Oregonian heritage with Mr. Beard’s family), than anything else.

Grandma was a simple farm-cook, (which if you think about it, is the epitome of the “American” cuisine Beard promoted-fresh, seasonal, wholesome, nutritious food in ample quantity). The lack of tattered pages with water spots and pencil notes in the margins tells me Grandmother rarely cooked any of the recipes in The Fireside Cookbook. She certainly wasn’t going to use the cookbook to prepare Beard’s recipe for “Sweetbreads en Brochette.”

I didn’t really care if the cookbook was ever used for practical purposes. Fate had blessed me, and all of these years later I had a valuable piece of Beard’s legacy.

I was waiting in the lobby of the building where the hospitality classes are taught at UNLV when a woman walked in and asked if I was waiting for the Panel Discussion associated with the Beard Taste America Events.

She then introduced herself as Susan Ungaro, the President of the James Beard Foundation. After exchanging pleasantries, our visit turned into one of those chance meetings that you can’t script in advance-one of those spur of the moment encounters that leave you with lasting impressions.

We struck up a conversation about the Taste America events and the private dinner I had enjoyed at Valentino. I told Susan that I had a cookbook that I had brought with me to Las Vegas and she might be interested in seeing it.

I reached into my bag and pulled out Grandmother’s first edition of The Fireside Cookbook. Imagine the look on Susan’s face-President of the Beard Foundation-when she saw my first edition of one of Beard’s early cookbooks.

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The Foundation doesn’t have a large collection of original works by Mr. Beard, so it was my pleasure to share a part of my family with Ms. Ungaro.

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I went on to explain my family history and how my Grandmother came to own the cookbook, and how, like Mr. Beard, I was a native Oregonian.

After the success of the white truffle dinner at Valentino on Friday night, I never would have imagined that this moment with the cookbook at another event dedicated to Mr. Beard’s would be so memorable.

The work of James Beard was beginning to come full circle. Beard had written about the white truffle in 1949 in the Fireside Cookbook-and I held a first edition of that book in my hands. I had just been introduced to the President of the Beard Foundation and had taken the opportunity to share this important piece of Beard’s legacy with her. A surprise encounter indeed.

The composition of the panel reminded me of an “East vs. West” college all-star football game. Three formidable figures from New York City represented the “East,” or national perspective-Mitchell Davis, Vice President of the James Beard Foundation, Alan Richman, arguable the Dean of America’s top Food Writers, and Jeffrey Steingarten, recognized today as the top judge on “Iron Chef America” on Food Network.

On the panel representing the local views from the “West” (Las Vegas), were Dr. Pat Moreo, Professor in the Food and Beverage Department at UNLV, Chef Paul Bartolotta of “Bartolotta Ristorante Di Mare” at the Wynn, and John Curtas, Food Writer, KLAS, KNPR and Master of ELV.com.

John was instrumental in bringing the Beard Foundation and “Taste America,” to Las Vegas. (And for assembling this studied panel).

I took a seat amongst the 40 students in attendance. (They really had no idea as to the impressive backgrounds of the panelists, but they soon realized they were in the company of some heavy-hitters in the food world).

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From left to right-Alan Richman, Dr. Pat Moreo, Mitchell Davis acting as the Moderator of the Discussion, Jeffrey Steingarten, Chef Bartolotta and John Curtas-

The selection of Richman and Steingarten to the panel lent a huge amount of credibility to the argument that Las Vegas has become an emerging presence on the American dining scene. And opposed to what some of the today’s bloggers may have written, I didn’t find either Richman or Steingarten to be a “curmudgeon.” In fact, both are humorous, informative, intellectual, and quite pleasant gentlemen.

Steingarten’s comments came in the same form of biting witticism that we’ve witnessed in his capacity as a judge on Iron Chef America. His criticism’s were quite amusing and he often stuck the tip of the Chef’s knife in the back of the other members of the panel. He often started his response with a question to another panel member, knowing they would be at a loss for words-“if you had eaten the street food in Hong Kong you would have tasted the noodles, wouldn’t you?”

But first appearances aren’t always what in the end is the truth. Witty remarks aside, over the course of the discussion Steingarten made some of the most prophetic statements of any of the members on the panel.

“Las Vegas doesn’t exist from the street up” Steingarten said. (In other words, Las Vegas is a “Strip” of gleaming glass and concrete hotel towers that are a fabrication of something somewhere else. There are no small shops, cozy café’s or Mom and Pop produce stands lining the streets).

Inevitably, whenever one discusses the merits of Las Vegas being a top dining destination, the conversation turns to the subject of where the food products come from. Some argue that Las Vegas is not worthy of being named a top American dining city because all of the products are brought in from somewhere else.

The highlight of this particular discussion came when Steingarten decreed that “the Alice Water’s religion is loosening where ‘everything’ must be local.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Steingarten used the example of the seafood that is served in Las Vegas. All of that seafood is shipped from somewhere else-Spot Prawns from Alaska, Spiny Lobsters from St. Maarten, Spanner Crabs from Australia-it all comes from literally hundreds, thousands of miles, away from the parched dessert sands of Las Vegas.

If the seafood served in Las Vegas is imported from somewhere else, does that mean it isn’t any good? Does that mean Las Vegas isn’t a city where you can eat deliciously fresh seafood? Of course not.

If we limit Chefs to only using locally-sourced products does that “dumb-down” their cuisine? Of course not.

The success of a dish isn’t merely based on whether the walleye was fished out of Lake Mead or Lake Michigan. The success of a dish is based more on the quality and freshness of the product, combined with the creativity and technical skills of the Chef.

Certainly if you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do, using locally grown peaches picked off a 60-year old tree in your backyard the second week of September is going to give your cobbler an incredibly deep, rich peach flavor.

Yet the peaches from Frog Hollow Farm in California that are used by Chef Rick Moonen at RM Seafood in Las Vegas are just as good as the ones in my backyard in Spokane. Bursting with sweet, peachy juices, the Frog Hollow Farms peaches are a living example of how a Chef in Las Vegas can create a delicious, signature cuisine.

The discussion then turned to Chef Paul Bartolotta and how he brought his concept of Mediterreannean seafood cuisine to Las Vegas. (And I would add that both Steingarten and Richman declared that Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at the Wynn is the top Italian seafood restaurant in America).

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Chef Bartolotta pointed to some interesting facts that make his restaurant unique to Las Vegas-and bolster the argument that Las Vegas is in fact, one of America’s top dining destinations.

Chef Bartolotta was not immediately smitten with idea of pulling up his roots in the Midwest and venturing to Las Vegas. It was only after intense negotiations with Steve Wynn that he made the commitment. That commitment involved creative control of the menu and an attention to detail in terms of the quality of the seafood that is nearly unmatched at any other restaurant in America.

You can read about and view some photos of this attention to detail at this link to a story I wrote about the kitchens at the Wynn:

Without such a commitment, both in terms of quality and the financial resources to back it up, Bartolotta wouldn’t have signed on with Wynn.

Well over half of the guests that dine at Bartolotta are repeat customers-a telling statistic given the fact that most of the customer base in Las Vegas is transitory. Most patrons dine once at a restaurant and never return. (Chef Bartolotta spoke about a wealthy Italian family that books rooms at the Wynn for ten nights every summer and dines at his restaurant nearly every single night. I should be so lucky as to have that line of credit).

Chef was quick to point out that unlike some of the other high-end dining establishments on the Strip, Bartolotta pursues both a quality dining experience with basic, sound, profitable restaurant economics. Many of the restaurants in the Bartolotta price category, (extremely expensive), exist solely to sate the pleasures of the high-rollers whose rooms and restaurant bills are “paid” by the hotel. As such, many of these restaurants are what we call “lost-leaders”-palaces of decadence that exist not as profitable businesses but to serve as a part of the overall fantasy we’ve come to know as Las Vegas.

Steingarten put it in simple, understandable terms, “the artistic freedom of a Chef is born out of economic freedom.” In other words, give a talented Chef the economic freedom to explore his creativity and profits will come. Simply signing on a “celebrity Chef” and putting the registered trademark over the door isn’t enough.

The example set by Bartolotta at Wynn is a lesson in quality and business acumen that other restaurants in Las Vegas would be wise to study.

The discussion took a turn to a subject that is not always welcome by those who are advocates of the Las Vegas dining community. Mitchell Davis posed the ominous question-“is Las Vegas a great ‘food city’?” “Can Las Vegas be called a great ‘restaurant city’ if it lacks the soul of a great food cit’?”

Alan Richman’s example of a great food city was Hong Kong in the 1960’s. (Richman thinks Las Vegas is a “terrible” food city with some great restaurants.”).

Chef Bartolotta said the “ethnic, simple food of New York” defined it as a gread food city.

John Curtas named “Bologna, Italy and Vancouver, B.C. as both great food cities and great restaurant cities.”

Professor Moreo pointed out that when he came to Las Vegas in 1967, “most of the residents were transplants from New York and Chicago-many of them second-generation Italian-Americans who brought their food traditions with them.”

According to the Professor, back then there was wonderful, traditional pizza in Las Vegas-a traditional slice of America that would sadly melt away in the coming years as the demographic make-up of Las Vegas changed.

The wise Professor noted that today Las Vegas is considered the home of the “New Southwest” rather than the home of generations of immigrants.

Waves of people flooded Clark County during the economic boom of the past 15 years-the motivation being the thousands of jobs that were available at the time. (Sadly, depending on who you speak to, dining revenue in Las Vegas was down by nearly 20% in 2008).

Unfortunately, food traditions, ethnic cuisines and markets, storefront café’s and restaurants with ‘soul,’ didn’t follow the scores of people who made up the “new” Las Vegas.

Richman mentioned that the loss of the traditional hotel “coffee shop” meant that locals who worked in the casinos no longer had a gathering place where they could congregate after work over a cup of coffee or a cold beer. The environs of the hotel coffee shop fostered a spirit of commraderie among the hotel staff that is merely a memory today.

The “employee cafeteria” housed in today’s mega-resorts has replaced the coffee shop. Employees trudge through a buffet-style line, they hand a plastic card to an unemotional cashier and wander off to eat in silence.

Mitchell Davis brought up the fact that today’s work schedules and lifestyles of the workforce don’t allow for families sitting down to a traditional Sunday Supper-a gathering of Aunts, Uncles, Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers and Cousins-all sharing in the bounty of a family meal. In Las Vegas, Mom may go to work at 10 p.m. while Dad and the kids are getting ready for bed.

The best example of how far Las Vegas has to go before one can declare it a “great food city,” was provided by the one panel member most informed on the issue-John Curtas-one of the three members of the “West-Las Vegas” faction of the panel.

As you may know, John is what could be called the bon vivant of Las Vegas dining. He reports daily on the Las Vegas dining scene at his website, ELV.com, gives weekly dining reports on KLAS-CBS, produces the “Food for Thought” weekly segment on KNPR-Radio, is one of the new judges on “Iron Chef America,” and is the Las Vegas representative of the James Beard Foundation.

Aside from the jovial side of John’s gregarious personality is a depth of knowledge about food, cooking, service and dining that is quite literally unmatched by any other man or woman reporting on Las Vegas dining today.

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John proclaimed Vancouver, B.C., to be one of North America’s “greatest food cities.” (A city I’ve visited many times, and a great restaurant city to boot. Vancouver has it all so to speak, when it comes to food and dining).

Graced with the natural beauty and attributes of its location, Vancouver defines a great food city.

Located on the Northern coast of the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver is the home to a bounty of locally grown foods. Everything from Dungeness Crab, Pacific Oysters, Salmon of all species, wild game, hazelnuts, walnuts, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries and acres of vineyards grow within steps of the city center of Vancouver.

Adding to the natural harvest of Vancouver is a population that is truly a melting pot of cultures-Canadian, British, European and Asian. The population of Vancouver is made-up of nearly 70% immigrants.

The immigrants have brought their culture, cuisine and food traditions to Vancouver which adds to the city’s richness as a mecca for food lovers and professional Chefs.

Stroll through one of the streets of Chinatown in Vancouver and you’ll discover stalls selling all manner of live seafood, shellfish and unrecognizable creatures that you just know will end up in the evening’s hotpot. Vancouver’s Chinatown is just one small pocket of inspiration and a marketplace of deep flavors for the home cook and the restaurant chef alike-the perfect melting pot that defines a great food city and a great restaurant city.

The comparison of Vancouver to Las Vegas-cities similar only in terms of population-are staggering.

One a city born from the natural beauty and bounty of the Pacific Northwest, the other an oasis that arose literally overnight from a sun-scorched desert.

One a city of immigrants who for generations have brought with them a cornucopia of cultures, traditions and cuisines-all of which have come together, in homes and in restaurants, to celebrate food and dining. The sort of love of food between a city and its residents that endures over time.

The other, also a city of immigrants, yet a city still in its infancy. A city still searching for that sense of self, of tradition, and a rich history with food.

Las Vegas seems to always be trying to re-invent itself, ever searching for the next trendy restaurant theme, the latest incarnation of lobster, foie gras and caviar. Sometimes it works, but often it never lasts. The experience, while satisfying at the moment, may not be memorable years later.

(a metaphor that could be used to describe many of the “in-the-moment” pleasures of Las Vegas).

It wasn’t until I returned home from Taste America that I realized how much of an impact the panel discussion would have on my own work as a Food Writer.

And in another twist of fate, I realized that The Fireside Cookbook was much more than a cherished family heirloom that had taken the trip with me to Las Vegas.

The Fireside Cookbook was the work that launched Beard into the national spotlight. Soon after it was published in 1949, Beard began a lengthy career writing about food and dining in magazines and newspapers across the country, including Gourmet, Harper’s Bazaar, Argosy, Apartment Life, House and Garden and The New York Times to name just a few.

It was becoming clear to me that Beard’s impact reached much farther than his cookbooks and impressive personality-he was also one of the first Food Writers to have an impact on the tastes of America.

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A great read, David. It's interesting to hear your thoughts on Las Vegas's sense of place. I've never been there myself, nor do I ever plan to visit as I imagine its charms would be lost on me. Especially since I'm not a high roller.

It seems inevitable that if Las Vegas is always re-inventing itself, and is yet in its infancy that its food culture and ingredients would have to be imported from elsewhere. How could restaurants use local ingredients when the town only exists for the tourist trade? There's no there there. (Is there - ? I'm assuming there's not family farms and decades of traditions contributing to the development of local delicacies.) So chefs will have to look elsewhere to provision their kitchens. But if the best is imported from other places, what makes fine dining in Las Vegas special? What can I get there that I can't find in other fine dining cities like New York, Paris, or Tokyo?

As for the low-end of the dining scale - Steingarten said that “Las Vegas doesn’t exist from the street up” -If you agree with this statement, do you think that someday it will exist from the street up? What are your thoughts on the reasons for this? Are there any bright spots or local specialties that may, with some nurturing, help develop a local food culture in Las Vegas?

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A great read, David. It's interesting to hear your thoughts on Las Vegas's sense of place. I've never been there myself, nor do I ever plan to visit as I imagine its charms would be lost on me. Especially since I'm not a high roller.

It seems inevitable that if Las Vegas is always re-inventing itself, and is yet in its infancy that its food culture and ingredients would have to be imported from elsewhere. How could restaurants use local ingredients when the town only exists for the tourist trade? There's no there there. (Is there - ? I'm assuming there's not family farms and decades of traditions contributing to the development of local delicacies.) So chefs will have to look elsewhere to provision their kitchens. But if the best is imported from other places, what makes fine dining in Las Vegas special? What can I get there that I can't find in other fine dining cities like New York, Paris, or Tokyo?

As for the low-end of the dining scale - Steingarten said that “Las Vegas doesn’t exist from the street up”  -If you agree with this statement, do you think that someday it will exist from the street up? What are your thoughts on the reasons for this? Are there any bright spots or local specialties that may, with some nurturing, help develop a local food culture in Las Vegas?

Wonderful questions, thank you for asking.

One important fact to note is that Las Vegas doesn’t merely exist for the tourist trade. While gaming and tourism are a primary source of revenue for the city, Las Vegas is the home to thousands of members of the armed forces and is the center of commerce for Southern Nevada. While it may be hard to imagine, many people that call Las Vegas home never set foot in a casino or resort hotel. They do, however, eat at what we call “local” restaurants. So while it is hidden from the viewers of the Travel Channel, there is a “there,” if you will, in Las Vegas.

From what some Chef’s have told me, there are a few small farmer’s in the Las Vegas area that supply them with products, but just a few. One Chef I spoke to last May, actually sends one of his cooks over to the Santa Monica farmer’s market twice a week to buy seasonal produce. He supplements that stock with what he buys through the hotel purchasing department-the stuff that is ordered off a spreadsheet.

Many cities face the same challenge-the demands of the restaurants far outweigh the ability of the local farmer’s community to provide an adequate supply of provisions. It’s just highlighted to a greater degree in Las Vegas due to the limitations of the agricultural landscape that prevents farmer's from cultivating products in huge quantities.

And don’t forget, Las Vegas is a city that has virtually grown-up overnight. (The “Strip” didn’t really exist before 1941). There isn’t a history of decades and decades of traditions with food and cuisine.

It will take many more years for Las Vegas to establish its own food traditions. Yet I don’t believe that has to happen before I can declare Las Vegas a great restaurant city.

This question brings us back to what the panel discussed-“Does a city have to be a ‘great food city’ in order to be a ‘great restaurant city?” In the case of Las Vegas, I don’t believe it does. Las Vegas is in my notebook of reviews, already a great restaurant city.

Does the fact that nearly every ingredient served on every plate is imported mean the Las Vegas dining experience lacks something? Perhaps for some, but not for me. The signature Artichoke (from California), Soup with Black Truffles (from France), served at Guy Savoy in Caesar’s Palace is most delicious-and memorable.

You may ask “what can I get there, (in Las Vegas), that I can’t find in other fine dining cities like New York, Paris or Tokyo?” That of course, is a particularly personal question.

As I’ve mentioned on other pages, dining in Las Vegas offers a memorable experience to some people who may never have the opportunity to dine at Le Bernadin in New York.

Take the group from Northern Idaho in town for three days for a convention. They’ll never have the opportunity to dine on the Left Bank in Paris, never have the financial means to eat at an authentic sushi bar in Tokyo. But they do have this chance to travel to Las Vegas and eat at Restaurant Guy Savoy-arguably one of the finest French dining rooms in America.

So you see, the concept of “farm-fresh,” “seasonal,” “locally-grown,” ingredients may not be of great importance to these customers. What is important is that they are given a pleasurable, delicious dining experience amidst the excitement of Las Vegas. They expect the Chef will use top-quality products, but where those products come from may not matter to them.

In my opinion, that is part of what makes Las Vegas a great dining city-it caters to those who are seeking a great experience. It’s a thought that is often lost on those of us who are “serious” foodies. (You know who you are-you only eat fresh asparagus from Walla Walla, and only the first week of June).

The “customer” in Las Vegas is unique because they are dining in the moment so to speak, and their satisfaction is a point that we should consider when we discuss the Las Vegas dining scene.

When Steingarten said that “Las Vegas doesn’t exist from the street up,” I got the sense he was dreaming about some small town in Southern France where the main street is lined with stucco buildings with café’s and patisseries on the street level and laundry hanging out of the upper windows. A quaint little town where shopping for leeks and a chicken for the pot is a part of daily life.

Steingarten’s vision will probably never come to life in Las Vegas. That’s partly a fact of geography and the natural layout of the city. The city is too vast and spread too far to ever have quaint little streets full of food shops.

But what will grow and rise from the desert will be Las Vegas’s own version of a food community. It may come in the form of strip malls and concrete jungles, but it’s already happening.

If you go to the “Fear and Lotus in Las Vegas” topic, you’ll read about and see some of the exciting things that are happening in the Asian dining community in Las Vegas. And while the shops and restaurants may not be on quaint side streets, they offer some delicious bites.

That’s the start of what I see as a local “food culture” in Las Vegas. I truly believe that the growth of a food culture, whatever cuisine or form it may take, will benefit not only the residents, but also the tourists, the Chefs and the greater Las Vegas restaurant community.

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It’s been six weeks since I last posted on the James Beard Foundation, "Taste America" Events that were held last October in Las Vegas. Far too long for most reports.

But time has a way of uncovering treasures that would not have been discovered in the moment when I wrote the last entry on January 19.

Saturday, October 25, 2008-“Gala Dinner, The Palazzo Resort-Hotel-Casino.”

“A Coast-to-Coast Celebration of our Country’s Bounty.”

The finale to the past few days of celebrating the life and legacy of James Beard came to a crescendo with the grand gala benefit dinner and auction at The Palazzo.

The press release promised that the dinner would “feature more than a dozen James Beard Foundation award-winning chefs joining forces to create a “once-in-a-lifetime” gastronomic experience.”

If one considers the fact that this was the largest partnership of James Beard award-winning chefs working in one kitchen, then yes, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And by the way, awards notwithstanding, the food was delicious.

The Gala Benefit was a party on an impressive scale-a gathering of glitterati from the food world and some of the most gracious charity donors known in Las Vegas.

The evening began with a silent auction, cocktails and appetizers in the foyer of the Grand Ballroom.

Beard would not have settled for anything other than his name in largesse-

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Tables were set with descriptions of the auction items and guests had the opportunity to offer a “silent” bid. Proceeds from the auction went in part to fund scholarships for hospitality students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Some of the more popular auction items were tickets to the 2009 Beard Awards in New York and a dinner at Rao’s in New York hosted by Alan Richman.

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The bars were carved out of ice-

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The second-best dish I tasted that night was this delicious little mound of Foie Gras Mousse on Brioche with Fig Chutney and a sprinkle of Sea Salt-

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Smoked Salmon, American Sturgeon Caviar on Grain Bread. The Salmon and Sturgeon were delicious, but the bread was a bit greasy and had a strong flavor of raw grains-

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Vegetable Tart in Phyllo Crust-

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The concept behind the dinner was to take guests on a “Coast-to-Coast Celebration of our Country’s Bounty.”

The ballroom had the typical set-up of a stage and round tables, yet any similarities to your average chicken and steak Friar’s Club dinner were cast aside on this night.

The room was composed of four quadrants. Each “quadrant” would be served by a team of Chefs composed of James Beard nominees, Chefs who had won a Beard Award and Chefs from The Venetian and Palazzo.

Each quadrant of the dining room was served a different four-course meal. The “Carnitas Tacos” we enjoyed at our table wouldn’t be the same opening course served to the table in the far corner of the ballroom.

The Chefs for each quadrant came from a wide cross-section of America, meaning no table had a “regional” themed menu.

The Chefs serving our section-

Celina Tio of Julia(n) Restaurant, Charlotte, NC

Fabio Trabocchi, Fiamma, New York

David Robins and Matt Hurley, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, Las Vegas

Jean-Louis Gerin, Jean-Louis, Greenwich, CT

The fabulous table setting of fresh white roses, lilies and wine glasses, wine glasses, wine glasses-

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Course #1, Chef Celina Tio, Julia(n) Restaurant, Charlotte, NC. “Carnitas Tacos with Egg, Cilantro and Lime.” Served with “Contratto Arnelle, 2007, Gavi.”-

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Course #2, Chef Fabio Trabocchi, Fiamma, New York. “Alba White Truffle Risotto with Vacche Rosse Parmigiano-Reggiano.” Served with “Au Bon Climat, 2004, Hildegard Estate”-

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The best dish of the evening was the simplest-perfectly cooked fresh sea bass with a stunningly light, fresh tomato vinaigrette. And who was it that said you couldn’t transport an incredibly ripe, flavorful tomato to Las Vegas in October? I don’t know where the tomatoes came from, possibly the farmer’s market in Los Angeles. Bravo to Wolfgang Puck and his talented Chefs for presenting us with a passionate, yet simple dish.

Course #3, Chefs David Robins and Matt Hurley, Wolfgang Fine Dining Group, Las Vegas. “Pan-Roasted French Sea Bass with Micro-Basil and Warm Tomato Vinaigrette.” Served with “Silverado Vineyards, 2004, Napa Valley Chardonnay”-

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It’s a tricky under-taking when a Chef invokes the name of Escoffier-at a celebration of James Beard no less. But Chef Gerin did justice to the Masters with a deliciously moist, tender quail with a deep-flavored sauce-

Course #4, Chef Jean-Louis Gerin, Jean-Louis, Greenwich, CT. “Escoffier Quenelle and Mushroom Stuffed Boneless Vermont Quail with Devil Sauce.” Served with “Contratto, 2004, Panta Rei Barbera d’Asti”-

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Imagine the staging area and the prep, cooking and plating that had gone on behind the huge black curtain that was the back-drop for the stage? No doubt a ballroom kitchen and staging area filled with America’s finest Chefs would have been an impressive sight.

The celebration continued after dinner, beginning with an introduction by Susan Ungarro, President of the James Beard Foundation and Chef Charlie Trotter-

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The true entertainment followed-the fund-raising portion of the evening where the auction continued live. Off course, the raucous portion of the entertainment was served-up by two Food Writers. (Chefs don’t always make for boisterous auctioneers). Only two of the most charismatic Food Writers of the day could reap such benefits for the Beard Foundation.

In this fuzzy photo, one can make out the images of two titans of the food world-John Curtas, (aka eatinglv.com, KLAS, KNPR, and decidedly the King of Las Vegas), and the multi-platinum James Beard Award Winner, Mr. Alan Richman-

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Richman and Curtas were solely responsible for drawing out thousands of dollars for the Beard Foundation. A few other less notable personalities took to the auction stage, but they didn’t get a whimper of a bid compared to Richman and Curtas.

The dinner at Rao’s in New York went for the staggering price of $7,000! Transportation to New York and accommodation were not included in the final bid, but Richman did say he would bring the wine to the dinner at no extra cost.

I have no doubts that if the market for Food Writers were to shrivel up and fade away, we would see Richman and Curtas on the “Speed Channel” auctioning off a 1967 Shelby Mustang.

The introduction of the Chefs after dinner-

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After the ceremonies concluded, the black stage curtain was pulled back to reveal a stunning display of pastries, desserts and confections-

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Beard would have loved this feast of food, wine and celebration.

I’m glad I waited a while before finishing this report. Had I ended this story weeks ago, it would have simply been a trip report on the Taste America events with a few unique encounters with white truffles and an old cookbook along the way. As time often reveals, waiting to share some final thoughts allowed my story to come full-circle.

In the months since Taste America, something quite amazing has been announced that bodes well for the Las Vegas restaurant trade. And that wonderful announcement answers some of the critics who argued that the restaurants of Las Vegas were not worthy of national recognition, and those who said that bringing the Beard Foundation to Nevada would have no long-lasting influence on the American dining scene.

Just two weeks ago, some of the talented Chefs and Restaurants of Las Vegas were awarded with 10 nominations for the prestigious 2009 James Beard Awards.

The list includes:

Best New Restaurant-

Raku Las Vegas

Rising Star Chef of the Year-

Vannessa Garcia, Restaurant Charlie, The Palazzo

Sarah Kosikowski, Michael Mina, Bellagio

Outstanding Pastry Chef-

Kamel Guechida, Joel Robuchon, MGM Grand

Outstanding Wine Service-

Picasso, Bellagio

Outstanding Service-

Le Cirque, Bellagio

Nobhill Tavern, MGM Grand

Best Chef, Southwest-

Paul Bartolotta, Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, Wynn Las Vegas

Saipan Chutima, Lotus of Siam

Claude Le Tohic, Joel Robuchon, MGM Grand

This group represents not only the nominees, but the teams of chefs and employees who ply their craft in the kitchens and dining rooms of Las Vegas.

The winners will be announced at the 2009 James Beard Awards on May 3-4 in New York City.

At Taste America, we had celebrated the life and legacy of James Beard in one of the most exciting restaurant cities in America. We debated whether or not Las Vegas was worthy of that status-or if it was merely a city of gilt dining rooms with no talent behind the façade-a city searching for a food culture with “soul.”

Through Taste America, thousands of dollars had been raised to further the educational and scholarship missions of the Foundation-insuring that there will be future funding for students studying for a degree in hospitality and the culinary arts.

And finally, the talents of Las Vegas have now been recognized through the Beard Award nominations. Nominations for the Beard Awards certainly won’t end the debates about Las Vegas. Yet it is recognition that can’t be denied.

Beard himself has to have the last word. I return to “The Fireside Cookbook,” (Simon and Schuster, 1949). Sixty years ago Beard wrote about the movement to create an American cuisine. A movement that is being practiced every day in kitchens in homes and restaurants across the country-and in Las Vegas.

“More than other countries with longer histories or narrower tradition in food, however, America has the opportunity, as well as the resources, to create for herself a truly national cuisine that will incorporate all that is best in the traditions of the many peoples who have crossed the seas to form our new, still-young nation.”

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Bravura report, David! Who were some of the chefs working in the other quadrants?

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Bravura report, David! Who were some of the chefs working in the other quadrants?

Thanks doc. I didn't get copies of the other three "quadrant" menus, but given the talent, I'm sure they served some incredible dishes.

A few of the recognizable Chef's that were cooking in the other quadrants that evening were:

Patrick Connolly, Bobo, New York

Traci Des Jardins, Jarniniere, San Francisco

Donald Link, Herbsaint, New Orleans

Shawn McClain, Spring, Chicago

Adam Siegel, Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro, Milwaukie

Holly Smith, Cafe Juanita, Kirkland (Seattle)

Johnathan Sundstrom, Lark, Seattle

Luciano Pellegrini, Valentino, Las Vegas

David Burke, David Burke, Las Vegas

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      Preheat your oven to 350°.
      Grease or spray two 8" round pans or an equivalent volume square or rectangle.
      Place the cocoa in a medium (4-5 cup) bowl. Add the hot water and stir with a fork to break up any clumps. Allow to cool down a little,  then add the vanilla extract and the mayonnaise or salad dressing spread. Beat well to eliminate lumps. In the bowl of an electric mixer or larger regular bowl if making by hand, sift in the flour and add the sugar and baking soda. Mix the dry ingredients to distribute evenly. Slowly beat in the cocoa mixture. Mix until the batter has an even color. Pour immediately into the pans. If making two 8" rounds, weigh them to ensure they contain equal amounts.
      Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the center of the top springs back when touched lightly. (The toothpick test does NOT work well on this moist cake!) Allow the cake to cool a little and shrink from the sides of the pan before removing. Removal is easier while still a little warm.
      Good with or without frosting.
      Good beginner cake for kids to make.
       
       
       
    • By Sheel
      Prawn Balchao is a very famous Goan pickle that has a sweet, spicy and tangy flavor to it. 
      For the balchao paste you will need:
      > 8-10 kashmiri red chillies
      > 4-5 Byadagi red chillies
      > 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
      > 1/2 tsk turmeric powder 
      > 1 tsp peppercorn
      > 6 garlic cloves
      > 1/2 tsp cloves
      > 1 inch cinnamon stick
      > Vinegar 
      First you will need to marinate about 250 grams of prawns in some turmeric powder and salt. After 15 minutes deep fry them in oil till them become golden n crisp. Set them aside and add tsp vinegar to them and let it sit for 1 hour. Now, make a paste of all the ingredients mentioned under the balchao paste and make sure not to add any water. In the same pan used for fryin the prawns, add in some chopped garlic and ginger. Lightly fry them and immediately add one whole chopped onion. Next, add the balchao paste amd let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in the prawns and cook until the gravy thickens. Finally add 1 tsp sugar and salt according to your taste. Allow it to cool. This can be stored in a glass jar. Let this mature for 1-3 weeks before its use. Make sure never to use water at any stage. This can be enjoyed with a simple lentil curry and rice.
    • By sartoric
      I make this a lot. Traditionally served with dosa, but great with all kinds of Indian food, even just scooped up with bread or pappads for a snack. Although it's slightly different every time, depending on the tomatoes and chillies used, plus the strength of the tamarind, it's easy, quick to make and always delicious.
       
      In a blender - half a medium red onion chopped, 7 dried red chillies broken up a bit, 2 ripe tomatoes chopped, 1 tsp of sea salt, 3 tsp tamarind paste.

       
      Whizz until purée like about 2 minutes.

       
      In a sauté pan over medium heat add 60 ml sesame oil (gingelly), when it's hot but not smoking add 1 tsp black mustard seeds.   

       
      Quickly cover the pan to prevent escape and sizzle for a minute.

       
      Add 1 tsp of urad dal (black lentils, skinned and split they are light grey).

       
      Fry until golden, another minute or so.

       
      Throw in about 20 curry leaves. These splatter so cover the pan again. 

       
      Lower the heat and add the  blender contents.

       
      Simmer, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes, until you get a runny jam consistency.
       
      Ta da !

    • By HoneyMustard
      Pennstation's Honey Mustard taste so good, but they don't sell it in stores like Big Boy Frisch's sells their tartar sauce.

      I am assuming they buy it in bulk from a certain name brand. Does anyone know what that brand is or at least a similar Honey Mustard recipe?
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