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At Vegas Uncork’d, celebrity chefs meet their fans

Updated May 14, 2019 - 11:50 pm

The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town over the weekend. And while it was impossible to catch all two dozen-plus events, we dropped by as many as we could. Here are some of the highlights.

The weekend was officially launched Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ pool with the traditional Saber-Off, where a chef opens a bottle of champagne with a saber. Although some sprinkles of rain had the dozens of chefs in attendance ducking into cabanas for cover before the event, the drizzle let up in time for them all to flank Blue Ribbon’s Bruce Bromberg as he opened the bottle on his first try. Considering the trouble that Masaharu Morimoto had last year, it was considered quite the accomplishment.

“Behind the Scenes With the Master Chefs of France” started at The Venetian on Thursday evening with attendees at Rosina vying for the attention of two bartenders. Herded downstairs, though, things picked up, with food and beverage stations across the vast banquet kitchen and with chefs serving cheeses and salumi, seafood, pastries and desserts and demonstrating the sous vide process.

Thursday night at Caesars Palace, Old Homestead Steakhouse owners joined forces with Macallan Scotch for a Master Series pairing dinner. While several varieties of Macallan were offered straight and in cocktails, the highlight of the evening was the dessert course. Guests were offered the chance to sip The Macallan 25 Years Old (which can retail for $1,600 a bottle or more) and sample Macallan chocolate mousse with crunchy chocolate sable, pecan, vanilla ice cream and Macallan salted caramel sauce.

Just across the Caesars Palace casino floor on Thursday, Lisa Vanderpump hosted an event called “Roses and Rosé” at her new cocktail lounge. Clearly geared toward fans of her reality TV show, the star graciously indulged the crowd by posing for photos with each guest. As a result, the entry line was long and slow, although nobody seemed to mind. (Those who made it through that madness were able to find her husband, Ken Todd, and his dog casually posing for pictures in the lounge with anyone who asked.)

Friday’s events got underway with a pair of Chinese brunches in adjacent hotels. The Palazzo’s Mott 32 hosted a Dim Sum Brunch that began with a cocktail hour and progressed to a seated meal of some of the chef’s favorite offerings.

Just across Sands Avenue, Wynn Las Vegas hosted an event that put guests to work before they could eat. Those who attended “Perfect Peking Duck and Other Secrets of Chinese Cooking” began the day in the Michelin-starred Wing Lei kitchen with hands-on lessons on how to prepare Peking duck and chili sauce, fold dumplings and make fried rice in a wok. That was followed by a seated meal, where they got to enjoy those dishes.

The Venetian’s Factory Kitchen presented a pasta-making demonstration by chef/partner Angelo Auriana, along with fill-your-own mini-cannoli and Negronis and blood-orange martinis during “Think Italian: The Art of Italian Eating and Drinking” on Friday afternoon.

Giada De Laurentiis hosted a pair of events — dinner at her eponymous Cromwell restaurant on Thursday and an Aperitivo Hour at her Caesars Palace spot Pronto on Friday. At the latter, she chatted with fans about the Aperol Spritz and cheeses before mixing for a bit. But the big surprise of that event came toward the end when Jon Bon Jovi (who visited several local spots this weekend) dropped by with his son Jesse Bongiovi to chat about the latter’s Diving into Hampton Water rosé wine, which Pronto was featuring in its Frosé slushies.

Nobu Matsuhisa also got up close and personal with fans on Friday at his Master Series lunch. The chef went from table to table preparing nigiri sushi for each and every guest. He also gave some advice to sushi novices, including eating each piece as soon as it’s handed to you, and consuming each in one bite.

The Grand Tasting, held Friday night at Caesars Palace’s Garden of the Gods pool complex, was the centerpiece of the weekend. This year’s event, featuring more celebrity chefs than we could count cooking bites and mingling with fans, benefited from better weather and less cramped conditions than in previous years. Fans of off-Strip dining also were treated to a section on the Venus pool deck that highlighted top neighborhood spots such as Mordeo, Monta Ramen, Hatsumi, Nicole Brisson’s soon-to-open Locale (which received a visit from Gordon Ramsay) and cocktails prepared by The Black Sheep.

The weekend’s other big outdoor event, Picnic in the Park, was another highlight of Uncork’d, offering great food and a relaxing atmosphere in The Park adjacent to Toshiba Plaza on Saturday. Limited to chefs from the MGM Resorts International family, it was a less hectic affair than most dine-arounds, with plenty of places to sit and enjoy food. It also gave lots of access to superstar chefs such as Michael Mina, Roy Choi and Morimoto, as well as fun features including a company called Miss Daisy Floral weaving floral crowns for guests who wanted to channel their inner hippie.

Bubbly and brunch food kicked off “Champagne Brunch & Truffle-Making with Christina Tosi” Saturday morning at Rose.Rabbit.Lie. at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, but interest piqued when Tosi, chef/proprietor of the resort’s Milk Bar, showed the crowd how to make her cake truffles and let guests try their hand at it.

“From Amalfi, With Love” at Costa di Mare at Wynn Las Vegas on Saturday was quite genteel. Table seating was provided indoors and out, with guests stretching their legs to snag seafood such as chargrilled octopus and langoustines from stations posted around the curving waterfront terrace.

At “Behind the Bar” at Electra at The Venetian on Saturday afternoon, resort bartenders gave basic mixology lessons — “Notice I said ‘bruise,’ not ‘butcher’ ” and “Strain out of the large container, not the small one” — before attendees literally headed behind the bar to make cocktails such as the Penicillin and the Seasonal Fix with the pros’ guidance.

Gordon Ramsay’s Favorite Things at the chef’s pub in Caesars Palace on Saturday gave fans the chance to sample signature dishes such as his Beef Wellington and Scotch Egg at a cocktail reception before they were seated for a four-course meal. Then, during that meal, Ramsay answered questions from Bon Appetit’s Andy Baraghani, including what three key ingredients he can’t live without. His first pick was olive oil, which he said “makes everything so sexy. The other two picks were lemons, limes and oranges for zesting, and chilis, which Ramsay said “go with anything.”

The cast of “Absinthe” joined in the Uncork’d fun this year by offering a special performance of their show geared toward the festival crowd. Before showtime, the cast hosted a party under the Electric Oak Tree in the plaza outside their tent, where show host the Gazillionaire and cast members the Green Fairy and Wanda Widdles, among others, mingled with the crowd.

The sole off-Strip event of Uncork’d was a tasting and tour at The Underground, the speakeasy and distillery in the basement of The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas. Attendees entered through the dark stairwell on the side of the building by speaking the passwords (“I’m a rumrunner”) to a doorman peering through a thin slat in the door. Once inside, the packed house enjoyed live music, food and beverages, and had the chance to be walked through a tasting of the four house moonshines hosted by the master distiller.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian and Palazzo.

Contact Al Mancini at amancini @reviewjournal.com; follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinell @reviewjournal.com; follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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