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It’s ‘Martini Time’

Buffet action stations? So 2009. What’s new for 2010 is a live TV-style food show, in a buffet, in a casino.

Welcome to “Martini Time with Chef Tina Martini,” the liveliest thing to hit Las Vegas buffets in — well, a long, long time.

Somewhat ironically (especially in Las Vegas), “Martini Time” doesn’t involve any martinis, at least the kind you drink. It does involve a Martini who can cook — chef Tina Martini, and yes, that is her real name.

Martini holds court in the custom-built studio adjacent to the Studio B buffet at M Resort in Henderson. Three times a day, Sundays through Thursdays, she bounces through the tiered seating as a Carson-esque intro booms through the speakers, and makes her way to the kitchen set.

It looks, as these TV kitchens go, like a compact version of your home kitchen — in your dreams. There are soothing earth tones, fresh flowers, multiple appliances and lots of time-saving gadgets. Flat-screen monitors make it possible to see the action from any of the 44 seats in the house. In addition to the main floor there are two tiers of seating, curved around the center set.

Last week, Martini used her TV kitchen to prepare a complex dish that involved faux eggs (mozzarella balls cut to resemble the whites, with a yellow-tomato gelee for the yolks) atop a Napoleon made with crisp wafers of potato interspersed with mushrooms and green beans tossed with a dressing rich in herbs. As she demonstrated, the dish was presented to each member of the audience so they could taste as they learned.

But not all of Martini’s recipes will be so involved; a pomegranate-and-blood-orange mocktail was far more simple but equally appealing.

Martini said she plans to demonstrate different dishes every week.

The target audience, she said, is diverse. Although she expected “spa-club ladies” aged 45 to 60, “so far we’ve had an equal amount of men and women.” A recent show, she said, drew “senior citizens who were in their late 70s and they loved it and had great questions, and also a couple in their early 20s who were really into it. There’s a wide variety of faces in the audience, and that’s really nice.”

Members of one seniors group, she said, told her they plan to attend the show weekly, vowing to be “Tina groupies.”

“The subject changes every week, so you could easily come once a week and try new recipes, new tools,” Martini said. “I think we’ll be seeing a lot of regulars in the studio.”

Anthony A. Marnell III, chairman and chief executive officer of M Resort, predicts two markets for the show. The resort has a strong conference/convention business, he said, and the flexibility of having the studio adjacent to the buffet means shows can be arranged to fit a group’s schedule. Plus, he said, “Martini Time” appears to appeal to locals.

The studio was part of the resort from the beginning. Marnell has said that considering how his father, Anthony Marnell Jr., revolutionized buffets when he opened the Rio, he felt he had to continue the family tradition.

“We had a couple of things in mind, but it was always about entertainment,” he said of the studio. “It took us some time to figure out what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it.”

“We’re trying to do more of what Emeril may be doing on TV, making it a little personal,” Marnell said. He said he never envisioned trying to lure a show such as “Iron Chef,” quipping that the set isn’t big enough, that the famously combative competitors would probably be at each others’ throats.

“I think Tina is great because of her diversity and the health component that she puts into it,” he said.

The health component is a reference to Martini’s background in naturopathic medicine, which is reflected in the show. A chef for 23 years, she discusses the importance of phytochemicals in the diet and provides handouts that detail their sources and benefits.

“One lady said she found the nutrition information very palatable,” Martini said. “I’m really not the ‘don’t’ girl. I’m really more balance and striving to enjoy our lives, but also taking care of yourselves in a really balanced manner.”

“I think you will see repeat business,” Marnell said. “I think you’ll see the foodies out there who love this. They’ll want to see what she’s doing new.”

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

HONEY RICOTTA CHEESECAKE

WITH RASPBERRY SAUCE

8 ounces purchased biscotti

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 (12-ounce) container fresh whole milk ricotta, drained

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup orange blossom or clover honey

1 tablespoon orange zest

4 large eggs

Raspberry sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wrap outside and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with two layers of heavy-duty foil.

Finely grind the biscotti in a food processor. Add the melted butter and process until the crumbs are moistened. Press the crumb mixture over the bottom — not the sides — of the prepared pan. Bake until the crust is golden, about 15 minutes. Cool the crust completely on a rack.

Blend the ricotta in a clean food processor until smooth. Add the cream cheese and sugar and blend well, stopping the machine occasionally and scraping down the sides of the work bowl. Blend in the honey and orange zest. Add the eggs and pulse just until blended.

Pour the cheese mixture over the crust in the pan. Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the cheesecake is golden and the center of the cake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour and 5 minutes (the cake will become firm when it is cold).

Transfer the cake to a rack and cool 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and as long as 2 days. Cut the cake into wedges and serve.

Serves 12 to 16.

Raspberry sauce:

1 pint fresh raspberries

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Place all ingredients in food-processor bowl and process until smooth. Strain the sauce through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds. Spoon the sauce over cheesecake slices.

POM’S BLOOD JUICE

8 ounces pomegranate juice

8 ounces blood orange juice

4 ounces sparkling pink grapefruit juice (Crystal Geyser preferred)

Blood orange slices for garnish

Gently stir ingredients together. Serve in chilled cocktail glass, garnished with a slice of blood orange.

Serves 2.

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