Chatting up three chefs who are getting ready for Life Is Beautiful

Bruce Bromberg.

Bruce Bromberg.

The Organizer: Bruce Bromberg, Blue Ribbon

You and your brother Eric chaired the festival’s culinary advisory board. Was planning this thing bigger and badder than you expected?

The original concept of a casual little festival certainly became a far more significant endeavor, but it’s been a great experience to see how it’s grown and how much interest there is. Being able to bring together like-minded chefs and friends and to be on the other side of an event like this has definitely been eye-opening.

What have you guys done to make the food component of LIB stand out?

We were looking to create situations where chefs can interact with festival goers and be a bit more spontaneous and fun. Sometimes too much planning takes the creativity out of it. And the Culinary Crawl is going to be very cool. I think it will be the sleeper event of the festival.

What will you be doing at LIB?

My brother and I are hosting the kickoff party Friday night and honoring Jonathan Waxman. We’re also doing Chefs on Stage on Saturday, and then at the Blue Ribbon booth we’ll be serving sushi rolls and fried chicken. We’re lucky that one of our best-known dishes is kind of the perfect match for [festival food].

Nina Manchev.

The Local: Nina Manchev, Forte Tapas

What will you be doing at LIB?

We’re in the Culinary Village doing three different types of sausage. Our food at Forte is very simple and very much about our cultural background, so what we chose for the festival has to be really accessible but something with a lot of flavor and keeping true to what we do at the restaurant. European sausages just happen to be great festival food.

Forte hasn’t participated in big festival events like this. Is it scary going into something this big, or intimidating to be working alongside big-name chefs?

I feel more excited than nervous. It’ll probably hit the day of the event, because we don’t know what to expect. It’s an entirely new experience for us. But it’s so exciting to be in the midst of amazing chefs I admire and be able to work alongside them.

You’re also excited to give Downtown a taste of Forte, right?

I’m really excited about everything that’s going on Downtown, and the festival signifies that so many of these amazing developments are focused on food. It’s going to be great for us to feel the energy down there, too, because that’s where we’re opening our next location of Forte. We have a site but are still in negotiation.

Elias Cairo.

The Out-Of-Towner: Elias Cairo, Olympic Provisions, Portland, Oregon

Your incredible salumi and charcuterie is available at several restaurants in Las Vegas. What will you be doing at LIB?

We’re going to butcher a whole hog, Josh Graves and I, breaking it down into the cuts we use for charcuterie and showing where the pork chop and the cuts you know actually come from. Josh is one of the best hands-on butchers I know and it’s quite fun to watch him in action. And in the marketplace we’ll have a spot where people can come by and try all of our products.

You grew up in Utah before heading to Switzerland to start an apprenticeship. Any memories of road tripping to Vegas?

Salt Lake City was such a boring town. It was great to be able to cruise down to Vegas at any moment. I remember when Excalibur opened, and you’d eat with your hands while watching that show. And now, I’m really impressed with what’s going on there in the [Downtown] area. You see more privately owned bars and restaurants and shops in that area, and that was Portland 14 or 15 years ago.

That’s encouraging. What is it about Portland that made you want to start your business there?

Well, really because my sister was there. I’m Greek and family is a big deal. But honestly, after spending time [overseas] I was petrified to move back to America, after I’d been foraging chanterelles and learning so much about these hand-made meats, I thought there was nothing like that happening over here. But in the first two weeks in Portland, I was walking around and discovering farmers’ markets and these beautiful handmade cheeses, certified organic mushrooms, coffee roasters and chocolate makers and all these amazing things. Almost everybody I know essentially works for themselves or an independent business, and it’s very easy to bring a product to market. Maybe it’s something about the cost of living or the fact that it rains so much, people just kind of stay inside and tinker with their craft. But for some reason it’s this really amazing incubator that supports quality products.

Maybe if we could get rid of all our sunshine, we’d be on to something.

Maybe all that good weather is distracting. But you are seeing more independent restaurants and bars in Las Vegas. It’s just a matter of time. I’m surprised there are not more distilleries there. It seems like a natural fit.

Olympic Provisions has two locations and restaurants in Portland. Any chance of moving outside Oregon?

Our production side is way too hands on, such a nurtured craft, that it’s not something I could set up in another city. The idea of opening a charcuterie bar somewhere else appeals to us but right now we’re really trying to make what we have here as amazing as possible. I’m personally not going to ever open a restaurant in Vegas, but I do have great business partners who are very ambitious and could be enticed. It would be fun. Vegas has a lot of up-and-coming energy.

You provide a lot of education about your products. What is the biggest misconception about making meat?

The most shocking thing is I still get a lot of people that don’t believe we actually make it. We are butchering entire animals and hand-making every product, every piece of salumi or dry-cured coppa, the whole spectrum of charcuterie. We have five total butchers and make eight to nine thousand pounds of product a week.

You trim pork to 100 percent lean and then add fatback. That’s an old-school method that is rarely used these days. I don’t know any other producer that would do that. But only about 20 percent of the fat is the highest quality. The fatback and the blade fat, when you put that in your mouth, it changes the entire texture of salumi. It should just disappear. Other fat leaves you with a really greasy product like that of summer sausage, which has great flavor but that synthetic tang and leaves you with a greasy coating. This fat tastes like butter and you’re enjoying the total flavor of pork. It’s delicious.

With our production, we truly do everything to order every single day. It’s rare to be cutting garlic by hand, peeling onions, slowly grinding nutmeg, everything from start to finish. We never compromise. At our shop, that’s everything. I tell the old-timers all this and they just look at me and roll their eyes. They must think I’m absolutely crazy, and sometimes I feel they could be right. There are easier ways, but if we took them we wouldn’t be as proud.

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Brock is an award-winning writer who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for 20 years. He currently leads entertainment ...

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