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Vegas Unstripped is local chefs’ answer to star-studded Strip event

“It felt like a family. It felt like a community down there. Everybody was walking around hugging each other.”

That was Gina Marinelli, chef/partner of Summerlin’s red-hot new Italian restaurant La Strega, talking about Vegas Unstripped, Saturday night’s independent, off-Strip answer to the celebrity star power of Vegas Uncork’d.

Held under the stars in the Arts District, Unstripped was an undeniable statement about the often unsung culinary talent and creativity in our valley’s communities. More than that, however, it was a celebration of the way that group is working together to promote each other’s businesses, confident that the rising tide will, in fact, lift all of their boats. And on Saturday night, that tide seemed more like a flood of support from locals and visitors alike.

More than 600 foodies turned out to enjoy new creations and menu favorites from 18 local restaurants. They also enjoyed beverages from neighborhood bars, breweries, coffeehouses and other establishments, and live entertainment by local performers throughout the evening.

“I think it’s incredible that the event nearly doubled in size in one year,” organizer Eric Gladstone said of the turnout. “To do an event that’s trying to express an idea and convey a mission is very challenging. You don’t know if people are going to get it or not. And overwhelmingly, people get it.”

That mission, he says, is simple. “Supporting these independent chefs, and being willing to go along with them with new ideas and new dishes.”

Yvonne Schellerue, in town from San Francisco to visit family, definitely got it.

“It’s a revival here,” she said of the local talent on display. “And I think it’s super cool.”

The chefs, for their part, pulled out all the stops, creating plates that went well beyond standard festival fare. The team from Eatt and Partage, for example created three dishes: escargot croquettes, ostrich tenderloin with seared foie gras and orange, and chilled strawberry soup with cotton candy and biscuit. Sparrow + Wolf’s Brian Howard served a Sichuan-style potato pave with smoked trout roe and crema, scallops with marinated eggplant and ramp pesto, and Indian basmati rice pudding with candied almonds, cardamom and blueberry.

Recent Las Vegas transplant Diana Brier spent much of her night melting cheese with a blow torch at the Cured & Whey booth. She said she was excited to be a part of the event.

“I love the off-Strip scene in Vegas. The community is so tight-knit. Everybody loves everybody. And it’s a really interesting mesh of people. It’s a really beautiful experience.”

In addition to promoting local restaurants, Vegas Unstripped also raised some money to help neighbors in need. After covering chef expenses, Gladstone predicts they’ll be able to donate several thousand dollars from ticket sales to the Las Vegas homeless outreach program Caridad for its efforts to get homeless veterans involved with a new urban farming project.

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewwjournal.com. Follow AlManciniVegas on Twitter.

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