Is there such a thing as too many Michelin-starred chefs in the kitchen?
The answer, based on Vegas Uncork’d’s Grand Tasting held May 7 at the Garden of the Gods at Caesars Palace, would seem to be yes. And no.
Literally thousands of people juggled plastic wine glasses and plates of everything from shrimp and grits to sashimi at the annual food festival’s centerpiece event. The food was delicious. The wine was plentiful. And the traffic was very high. In certain corridors the tasting took on the feeling of a crowded nightclub, only instead of throwing elbows to make it to the bathroom, we were navigating the crowd with our eye on something delicious just ahead. Move, people! Bobby Flay is serving raw scallops!
The tasting was so packed that some chefs had to ration their wares carefully, while others ran out altogether. My fashionably late game plan turned out to be a rookie mistake. I spent 90 minutes at the Grand Tasting moving from booth to booth at a feverish pace, as clear plastic plates piled up in one hand. I didn’t even have time to dance to the sounds of chef Hubert Keller DJing high above the crowd. A one-trick pony he is not.
Which is not to suggest that I didn’t get enough to eat. My motley crew of diners and I were all game face at the Grand Tasting. Who has time to linger over any single dish when there are literally hundreds of items to try by chefs like Joël Robuchon, Flay, Masa Takayama and Rick Moonen? We moved around the pool doing a walk, eat, “Mmmmm” dance on repeat. By the time we’d reached CityCenter’s block of lavishly designed booths (each one echoed their restaurant’s décor) every delectable bite was a serious struggle.
And almost all the food was on a sliding scale of awesome. Of course, some finesse is lost when preparing meals en masse (and no one’s busting out the best product when they’re feeding a small army of partiers), but the Grand Tasting packed a worthy variety of flavor and presentation. On Wynn/Encore row, Carlos Guia served hefty slices of brown sugar-glazed pork loin with succotash, and Bon Appetit Executive Chef Cat Cora’s lamb and olive sliders with garlic sauce were backyard bbq bliss, if not recommended for anyone planning on a late-night makeout.
Further along, soon-to-return restaurant Social House (opening this summer at Crystals) served up tasty plates of tamarind braised beef cheeks, while SushiSamba impressed with an oddly delicious Manchego cheesecake with caramelized stone fruit. Note to the chef: Ditch the biscotti-like cookie. The dish doesn’t need it.
At the Valentino booth, a sauce-stained Luciano Pellegrini was hard at work whipping up hefty plates of spaghetti e polpette di coniglio with a cigar in his pocket. That’s thick spaghetti with spicy rabbit meatballs that will make you forget about beef. I would have gone back for seconds, if my stomach hadn’t already been on the verge of capacity.
For most of the weekend, Vegas Uncork’d was about eating with a side of intimacy - small dinners and culinary seminars that put celebrity chefs within speaking distance of foodie fans from around the world - but the Grand Tasting is a one-night festival of food all in itself. The fact that the all-star lineup drew such a massive crowd might have been inconvenient for those wishing to amble around the pool, but it was a sign that Uncork’d is reaching an audience willing to ante up for a one-of-a-kind night of food and drink. Having so many fabulous chefs at its disposal, both Michelin-starred and not, might have made the Grand Tasting a grand traffic jam, but it was one delicious parking lot.