This past weekend, thousands of foodies descended upon the Las Vegas Strip in search of beautifully plated amuse bouche-sized morsels, created by the best chefs in the world. This culinary pilgrimage was due to Vegas Uncork'd, an annual 72 hour food and wine extravaganza, which is presented by Bon Appetit magazine. If you happen to be considering a trip to Vegas next year, and you're the type of person who plans your vacations around the food (guilty), you should strongly consider coming to this event. It seems to get bigger and better every year, and I doubt that you'll be disappointed.
This year marked the event's 3rd anniversary, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend some of the events on behalf of Foodbuzz.com (thanks, Foodbuzz!) Armed with my very first media pass and my camera (I felt pretty important), I ate my way through some of the weekend's many events, rubbing shoulders with everyone from Tom Colicchio to Bobby Flay. Well, I didn't really "rub shoulders" with them. I did more of a deer-in-headlights stop and stare from three feet away. I really wanted to tell Tom C.that it was a huge mistake to not have selected Carla as the winner of last season's Top Chef, but I didn't think that would go over very well, so I didn't.
While I only attended a handful of events, some participants seemed to attend just about everything. This basically meant that they did nonstop eating and drinking from the time that they touched down at McCarran Airport to the time that they collapsed into the cab after checkout--likely in a foie gras-induced coma. For me, this feat would have been physically impossible, so I stuck with a few choice events that sounded the most delicious intriguing.
The first event that I attended was the one that most people attended, The Grand Tasting at the newly renovated Caesar's Palace pool. For $150, guests were able to sample dishes from a star-studded list of chefs: Robuchon, Flay, Savoy, Boulud, Ducasse, Batali, Colicchio, English, Mina, Simon, Pellegrini, Payard, Ogden...perhaps you've heard of a few? The chefs were all there too, well not Batali, but his shoes were (see left). In between posing for photos, the chefs were all doing what they do best, and in some cases even plating and serving food. How many people can say that they were handed a hollowed out coconut filled with a spicy mixture of shrimp and shaved vegetables by the Throwdown king himself (a.k.a Bobby Flay)?
Because I was armed with my handy media pass, Eric and I were allowed to enter the tasting a bit early, beating the crowds by about 15 minutes. After that, I knew that photo opportunities would be nearly impossible, not to mention sampling without being bumped into a few times. It was really difficult to decide where to start, especially when all of these world-famous restaurant signs are staring at you, just beckoning you to come and sample their cuisine.
Somehow, we made it through the entire event in just over two hours. Because it is very difficult to sample every offering, Eric and I traded off, even skipping a few places that weren't so appealing. Of all the places that I tried, my favorites dished were a tender lamb chop with curry sauce from Wazuzu (Encore Resort), the perfectly seasoned short ribs from Craftsteak, corn salsa-top sliders from BLT Burger, and the artichoke and black truffle soup, served with a rich brioche, from Guy Savoy (photo below). This soup sells for something like $65 a bowl at the restaurant (yes, one bowl), so I relished in every sip.
I also had the opportunity to attend some other events during the weekend. One was a Vegas-style culinary challenge between the chefs of the MGM and Caesars Palace. Cat Cora of Iron Chef fame as the emcee, and Barabara Fairchild, editor of Bon Appetit magazine served as one of the judges. There was an All-Star Interactive Lunch, during which you could assist celebrity chefs such as Paul Bartolotta and Daniel Boulud in preparing your meal. I thought that this was a particularly unique experience well worth the price of admission. Then of course there was the obligatory Vegas-esque event, the Celebrity Chef Blackjack Tournament. As I said, there were many other events that I didn't have the chance to attend--you would probably need to clone yourself to attend them all--but I definitely attended enough to get my fill.
I don't like to do a post without offering at least one tasty recipe to go with it. This is first and foremost a recipe blog, after all. When we entered the Grand Tasting, we were handed booklets, which provided information about the various Uncork'd events as well as about 70 pages of recipes from the participating chefs themselves (nice touch, huh?) I thought that it would be fun to try one of these esteemed recipes and share it with my readers.
Hmmm.....but which recipe should I choose? With so many mouthwatering options, I thought that the selection process alone would be both difficult and time-consuming. Not so much. When I took both the economic and feasibility factors of the recipes into consideration, I was really only left with a handful of options. This meant that I had eliminated all of the recipes that contained one or more of the following ingredients: truffles, truffle oil, truffle juice (what?), Kobe beef, Wagyu beef, duck, Berkshire pork belly, sweetbreads, mountain caviar, and of course foie gras. From the remaining batch, I got rid of anything with scallops (I'm allergic), aioli (just call it what it is folks--gourmet mayonnaise), or foam. I finally decided on what ended up being a surprisingly simple, but oh-so-rewarding cookie recipe from the famous pastry chef Francois Payard. In addition to his New York establishments, Chef Payard owns Payard Patisserie and Bistro at Caesars's Palace in Las Vegas. These chocolatey cookies are quite rich, despite the lack of butter, cream, egg yolks, or any of the other usual suspects. Bon Appetit!
Francois Payard's Decadent Chocolate Cookies
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 cups confectioner's sugar
Pinch of salt
2 3/4 cups toasted walnuts, chopped
4 large egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cocoa powder, confectioner's sugar, salt, and walnuts. Mix on low speed for 1 minute.
With the mixer running, slowly add the egg whites and the vanilla. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes until the mixture has slightly thickened. Do not overmix, or the egg whites will thicken too much.
Using a 2-ounce ice cream scoop, scoop the batter onto the prepared baking sheets. Scoop 6 sheet, spacing about 3-inches apart. Put the cookies in the oven and lower the temperature to 320F degrees. Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes, or until small thin cracks appear on the surface of the cookies. Pull the parchment paper with the cookies onto a wire rack to cool completely. Remove the cookies from the paper, and store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.