Culinary feast: Life Is Beautiful festival food

The Culinary Village at the Life Is Beautiful festival during the last weekend of October will have 40 vendors. Which doesn’t have the ring of “logistical nightmare,” until you consider that they’ll be set up on vacant lots on either side of Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. And that they all need hot water. And electricity. And gas. And equipment including refrigerators (lots of refrigerators), sinks (lots of sinks), and stoves, and ovens, and fryers, and dough proofers, and everything else necessary for preparing the food that they’ll be selling to the public.

And did we mention that this is going to be on vacant lots on either side of Fremont Street?

“It is a ginormous process,” said Jolene Mannina, head of culinary arts for Life Is Beautiful.

The gas will be easy, Mannina said, because everybody will be using bottled liquid propane. Water, not too bad.

“We are very lucky because we have water lines not far from us” near the site of the old Western Hotel, she said. “That was not as big an issue as you would think it would be.”

But getting all of the necessary rental equipment to the site is more of a challenge.

“It’s a very big process,” Mannina said. “First of all, we’re dealing with a lot of chefs who don’t normally do festivals of this size. What we had to do was take over the street that is on the side of the Culinary Village — Eighth Street — to build a back-of-house for these guys, with ware-washing, walk-in coolers, a place where they could actually put food until it’s needed, as well as potable water and ice.” All of the chefs who don’t have restaurants here are using commissary kitchens.

“There are a lot of details involved,” she said.

Each vendor will have a dedicated space, Mannina said, either 10 by 10 feet, 10 by 20 feet or 30 by 30 feet. Those with the 10-by-10-foot spaces will have another space of equal size behind it to use for prep.

“This is where they put their single-door refrigerators,” she said. “If they need fryers, if they need a warming oven.” The front space, she said, will be for display and sales.

The 10-by-20-foot spaces will have a similar format, she said, with a rear area for food prep. There are just a few 30-by-30 spaces, and their formats will be dictated by the vendors.

“Blue Ribbon’s main focus is on selling their chicken wings,” Mannina said. “They’re going to have like 10 fryers. And another area has been designed for them where they could have a few seats where you can sit and get food directly from the chef.”

Nobu will have a 30-by-30 space with seated dining, she said, and Caesars Entertainment Corp. will have a space shared by Martorano’s, Payard Patisserie &Bistro and KGB Burger.

Megan Romano, chef/owner of Chocolate &Spice Bakery, will share a space with Natalie Young, chef/owner of Eat. They’ll be making and serving beignets with sriracha-infused chocolate sauce and salted-honey caramel, plus pumpkin-caramel popcorn. And Romano said they’ve been considering the logistical details.

“I’m just learning about that myself,” she said. “It should be interesting.”

She doesn’t, however, seem daunted.

“It’s fun to be part of the first thing,” she said. “I’m collaborating with Natalie; we’re friendly and that makes for a good mix. It’s kind of nice to have a buddy to do things with.”

And she likes the focus of Life Is Beautiful.

“Just fun, accessible, good food,” Romano said. “The way it was described to me is that it was going to be very pedestrian and not as formal as some of the other events, which is refreshing.”

Romano said that even though Young’s restaurant is just down the street, they won’t be able to use it.

“She’s close by, but not close enough,” she said. “With the number of people, I think we’re going to want everything right behind us, and plenty of prep area — not that you want to be doing much of that.

“We’re positioned where a lot of the main equipment is, the central area where we’re able to store things. We’re not far from that. We do have it better than most spots, so that is in our favor.”

She expects they’ll have a dough proofer, fryers, a warmer and a sauce warmer.

Which, as you might expect, require electricity.

“Electricity — that’s another massive, massive project,” Mannina said, “supplying power for the entire festival, Culinary Village plus the stages. Everyone has submitted their power needs. Now we’re going back to make sure they’re the power needs they actually need.

“Power’s actually one of the most difficult things to get completely done, because obviously it’s extremely necessary,” she said.

All of the power will be supplied by generators, she said, and the generators must be at least 20 feet from food-service areas. That’s not a specific requirement from the Southern Nevada Health District, but there are plenty of others that must be met.

Tamara Giannini, an environmental health supervisor in the health district’s food/restaurant program, said the event’s scope is not daunting.

“Not for myself personally or the health district,” she said. “We routinely plan events and assist event coordinators throughout the year. It’s part of our job to coordinate with the event coordinators, get them the information they need. They’re dealing with multiple jurisdictions; we’re just one of them.”

Giannini said they were approached by the event coordinators in April. She said a “significant” number of permits will be required. Although the number was uncertain at press time, she expected it to be more than 100.

Their biggest concern?

“We want to make sure the event is safe for the public,” Giannini said. “Safe food, proper sanitation controls — all of this comes together to help prevent foodborne illness. Hot water’s important for the food vendors to properly wash their hands. They need to have approved sources of the food products, knowing where they’re coming from. Proper potable water supplies. That sewage and trash are disposed of in an approved manner. Food maintained at proper temperatures during transport and at the event.”

The Culinary Village, which will be open from 1 p.m. to midnight Oct. 25 and noon to 11 p.m. Oct. 26-27, is just part of the culinary aspect of the Life Is Beautiful festival. It kicks off Oct. 25 with the Take a Stand charity dinner and Grills &Guitars. Other events are The Alchemy Gardens, with craft brewers, winemakers and distillers and flight tastings, from 1 p.m. to midnight Oct. 26 and noon to 11 p.m. Oct. 27; Chefs on Stage, from 1:45 to 9 p.m. Oct. 26 and 12:45 to 8 p.m. Oct. 27; and the Culinary Crawl, from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 26 and 27. (For details and tickets, go to

So is this all going to come together?

“Of course,” Giannini said. “We have to help them have a successful event, and pre-event planning is something we normally do. We bring it all together for a successful community event that way.”

Mannina and Romano were philosophical.

“It’s a first-year festival,” Mannina said. “We don’t know exactly how we’re going to get hit and the way we’re going to get hit.”

“We’re making the dough now, and we’ll make as much as we can,” Romano said. “Given some of the changes that have been going on, everybody’s trying to get their head around it. At this point, we’ll be doing the best we can, and I’m sure it’ll work out.”

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at or 702-383-0474.

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