The Iron Chef and I: A brush with greatness at UNLVino’s Sake Fever

2013 UNLVino’s Sake Fever honoring Masaharu Morimoto with the Dom Perignon Award of Excellence at The Mirage on Friday, April 19, 2013.
Photo: Tom Donoghue/

I’m not saying I deserve a medal for it, but I am one of the few people who watched the original Iron Chef and now watches Iron Chef America. The glue that holds these series together isn’t just the name and the format, it’s the man: Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. So you can imagine the way I geeked out when he walked by me at the Mirage pool last Friday night.

I’d like to think that if I were on my own, I would have said or done something cool. Struck up a casual conversation, perhaps. But I wasn’t feeling cool; I was the opposite of cool. I was hanging with my parents, who had flown into Vegas for the weekend, at UNLVino’s Sake Fever, an event that brings charitable Las Vegans together to sample sake and Asian cuisine. Proceeds—$100 a ticket—go to UNLV hospitality students.

My dad isn’t a sake drinker. He’s more of a beer guy. I loved Crabbie’s ginger beer—even asked for seconds—but it was too sweet for him. He preferred North Coast Brewing’s Brother Thelonious, a Belgian-style abbey ale.

All three of us all agreed on the evening’s two best dishes: the chopped salad from SushiSamba and the black cod sushi from Japonais. My dad has an interesting relationship with sushi: Whenever I get him to try it, he likes it, but he still objects to sushi on the whole. He never wants to go to a Japanese restaurant. It’s like Obamacare: People oppose it on the whole, but they like all the individual components.

Back at the Mirage, chef Morimoto was invited to the stage. The president of the Mirage and the Asian portfolio director for Southern Wine & Spirits presented him with the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence. Upon receiving it, the Iron Chef broke into song. In Japanese.

“Who knew we were getting a concert, as well?” Mirage President Trevor Scherrer joked.

Next onstage was the official sake barrel ceremony—kagami-biraki. A sake barrel lid was split open with a wooden mallet, and sake was served to all.

Poolside, my parents and I sampled TY KU’s coconut sake, both straight up and in cocktail form. With a hint of vanilla and a smooth, silky texture, this sake doesn’t need the mixer. Next up were Shimizu-no-mai’s “pure” and “pure snow” sakes. My mom liked the pure but puckered her lips after trying the snow.

Monta Ramen won the night’s longest-line award. Which either means the noodles were delicious or the chef was unprepared. There was no line for Zenshin’s pork belly, which tasted great—like a fatty cake that melts in your mouth.

Of course, everything tastes better when it’s for a good cause. The calories don’t count, either.

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