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8 chefs to compete for job at soon-to-open Las Vegas steakhouse

The next big Las Vegas prizefight will have ranges and rolling pins instead of ropes and a ring. And the prize will be not a belt, but a job as head chef at a brand new, $10 million restaurant.

“Vegas Chef Prizefight” will debut at 10 p.m. Thursday on the Food Network with the arrival of the eight chefs and their first test: cooking at BLT Steak at Bally’s. Celebrity chef Anne Burrell will host the show and serve as coach. Fellow notable chef Scott Conant, who has headed kitchens at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Red Rock Resort, will be a recurring judge, along with Eileen Moore, regional president for Caesars Entertainment. Each show also has two guest judges, with three for the final.

As the six-episode series progresses from week to week, the competing chefs will tour Caesars restaurants including El Burro Borracho at the Rio, Mr. Chow and Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace and Giada at The Cromwell. The series winner will be decided in a 90-minute episode on April 9 and will take over the kitchen at Bugsy & Meyer’s, scheduled to open May 1 at the Flamingo.

Moore said the range of restaurants in Caesars’ Las Vegas portfolio makes the competition unique, because the contestants are tested in the super-casual El Burro Borracho, the ultra-luxe Guy Savoy and everything in between.

“For us, it was about seeing the versatility of these chefs and really discovering what level of creativity and cuisine they could come up with,” she said. “Unlike some other shows, where they’re just in a test kitchen, this was about actually having a complete dinner service prepped and ready to go. The pressure these contestants were under was real, and it was exciting.”

Moore said contestants start each segment with a session with Burrell in the test kitchen, after which they do a takeover at the designated restaurant.

“She really coached them in the kitchen,” she said. “As a judge, we were able to see how they interacted. There’s a lot that goes on in the kitchen. It really does, like they say, get hot in the kitchen, both in competition and intrigue. That comes out in one of the episodes — how they’re viewed by their peers and how they step up as a leader.”

The variety of guest judges, she said, brought differing perspectives to the competition.

Moore, who has operated dozens of restaurants during her career, got a new perspective, too.

“I had the best time,” she said. “I learned a lot. It was very inspiring.”

At Bugsy & Meyer’s

The restaurant that represents the grand prize was still in the construction stages during a media tour Friday afternoon, but it’s taking reservations through OpenTable for May 1 and thereafter. Moore said it’s “an amazing outlet. It goes back to the glitz and glamour of the 1940s — our heritage.”

The restaurant is named for Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and business partner Meyer Lansky, who opened the Flamingo, the first of its kind on the fledgling Strip, in 1946, and is designed to reflect an era when dinner patrons were more likely to be wearing furs and pearls than shorts and flip-flops.

It’s a wink at the history of the mob era. For example, guests will enter through what will appear to passers-by to be a bakery, complete with wares in display windows on either side of the door. Then they’ll pass through a “secret” entrance to the dining room.

“If you were in the cool crowd, you never came in through the front door,” said Jonathan Pacheco, the restaurant’s general manager.

Immediately after entering, they’ll come as close to walking through the kitchen as local health codes permit, following a wall of windows for a peek at the action, then passing a cooler where the restaurant’s dry-aged meat will be showcased. Pacheco said plans are to enable a guest to choose their cut from the case, if they desire.

William Becker, vice president of food and beverage for the Flamingo, The Linq and the Cromwell, said the restaurant will present six separate “experiences.” Among them will be the Patio, an indoor space that will provide views of the hotel’s wildlife habitat. Another is the lounge, with a huge oval bar as its centerpiece, surrounded by raised booths and featuring live entertainment evoking the ’20s to the ’50s on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Count Room, styled as a speakeasy, will seat 10 at its bar and will be open later than the rest of Bugsy & Meyer’s. While the restaurant will be decorated in light pastels, the Count Room will have the dark woods of a traditional steakhouse. The raw bar will be a source of entertainment in the form of staff preparing seafood and a view of the kitchen beyond.

Pacheco said the restaurant will be “rum-centric,” a nod to Lansky’s time in Miami and Cuba, and Cuban touches will show up on the food and cocktail menus. A cart will serve rum-based Old Fashioneds, and food carts are planned.

It’s clear that entertainment will be important. Becker said the restaurant was conceived with an eye to the opening of the Caesars Forum conference center nearby.

“We sort of built this place for the convention guest,” he said. “They’ll have the whole story of the restaurant before they sit down. When the experience becomes a greater thing than the food, that’s OK, too.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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