Let’s face it; people who participate in cooking competitions tend to be pretty intense, traveling many miles and endlessly refining recipes and technique to ensure that their chili — or barbecue, or burger, or sandwich, or pasta, or dessert, or bacon — is the best in the land.
So did you ever wonder how the best barbecue stacks up against the best chili or burger or sandwich or whatever? The second annual World Food Championships, through Sunday on the Fremont Street Experience and in the Fremont East Entertainment District, is an opportunity to find out. More than 300 cooks from across the country will be competing, and they’ll be doing it for far more than bragging rights, with a $300,000 total purse.
“Cooking really isn’t much of a spectator sport, let’s be honest,” said Ben Vaughn, who’ll host the event. “It’s really not that fun to watch, especially for a long period of time. The World Food Championships bring it front and center and make that incredibly interesting. We haven’t had a world food championship before, but now we do. It’s a diverse group of people with such different food backgrounds, competing against each other.”
Vaughn, host of the Food Network’s “Health Inspectors,” is a classically trained chef with 23 years of experience. He points out that someone like him could be going head to head with someone with a different background.
“I could potentially be competing against someone with 30 years of experience cooking for a family, possibly with a multicultural background, who could potentially smoke me at the table,” he said. “How cool is that?”
Pretty cool, as is the fact that all of the World Food Championship events are open to the public, most of them are free and many of them are clearly designed with entertainment in mind.
They include Food Fight on Fremont Street from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday on the Fremont Street Experience’s 3rd Street Stage, at which time NFL Hall of Famer Earl Campbell will compete against three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Bates in a “winner-taste-all” cook-off.
The Ultimate Bacon Experience from 1 to 3 and 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday in the Fremont East Entertainment District (at Sixth and Fremont streets) will involve chefs from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Las Vegas re-creating recipes created by Bacon World Championship competitors. That event is $40 online, or $50 at the door if tickets are available.
Chef demonstrations and competitions will run periodically, today through Saturday, on the 3rd Street Stage.
But the background for it all is the category competitions at both Fremont East and the Fremont Street Experience, with opening rounds today and Friday, category championships Saturday and the World Food Championships Final Table on Sunday.
Last year’s first event was at Bally’s, and Vaughn said they realized that there were some “kinks that needed to be worked out.”
“By moving it and relocating this to Fremont Street, somehow it feels more connected,” he said. “They’re taking the center of Fremont Street near The D and making a kitchen stadium there things can be viewed and watched. It doesn’t feel so disjointed. It’s all happening on this magnificent Kenmore Arena stage.”
Vaughn said he isn’t at all daunted by the specter of the culinary component of the Life Is Beautiful festival, held in the same area just two weeks before, which drew some of the country’s most prominent chefs.
“No way,” he said. “It’s not a competition. Vegas is the one-upper, everything-is-bigger-better-the-year-after. This is not a one-upper; it’s legitimate folks with proven abilities. It’s not a competition against other venues, it’s just a world championship.
Last year, Vaughn said, he was a judge and competed in one of the chefs’ challenges.
“This is legit,” he said. “The first year out, I’m thinking, ‘This is just a Vegas bells-and-whistles-smoke-and-mirrors kind of thing.’
“But it’s dudes traveling from all over the country, legitimately putting together really great food in the parking lot. That’s crazy to me. In food competitions, they’re traveling. You really have to be on your game to show up somewhere else and perform and execute with someone else’s tools.”
Vaughn said it’d be difficult to pick a favorite among the competitions. But then he got enthusiastic.
“I think sandwiches, honestly, are going to be one of my favorites,” he said. “We’ve got bacon, sandwiches, burgers, barbecue. It’s like … endless.
“Desserts, chefs’ challenges, home recipes. Best potato salad. I could eat potato salad all day long. I won’t, but I will.”
And he said the World Food Championships is different from some other, somewhat similar events.
“One of the more unique things about this event is it’s not about admission at the gate,” he said. “We want the locals to come, hang out on Fremont Street, enjoy that whole experience down there and watch these competitors battle it out for $300,000.”
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or 702-383-0474.