Saturday, May 12, 2012 | 2 a.m.
For Las Vegas and Clark County, the benefit was more obscure but arguably more important. Uncork’d is expected to pump more than $6 million into the local economy and help solidify Las Vegas as a premier foodie destination.
“This event makes our profile a little more sophisticated,” diner and Las Vegas local Ellen Wilkins said in between bites of a slider. “Most people still think of us as a $9.99 buffet city. This makes us more of a cultural spot.”
For the past five years, Uncork'd has showcased some of the biggest culinary names on the Strip. Friday, more than 3,000 hungry patrons from around the world dined on lobster rolls, chocolate bars and milkshakes prepared by the city’s most renowned chefs.
“It is the top event in Las Vegas,” Sushi Roku Executive Chef Haruhiko Takeshita said. “It helps us get local customers, VIP customers and helps us advertise.”
This year's event featured 60 restaurants, 50 chefs and 30 sommeliers.
Locals schmoozed, networked and met up with friends during the event at Caesars Palace’s Garden of the Gods. Diners — some in jeans, others in cocktail dresses — congregated in loud groups, talking and drinking wine, while chefs left their stoves to mingle with one another.
“It’s always an honor to be here with the big players, see old colleagues I’ve known forever and meet the new guys,” Border Grill Chef Mary Sue Milliken said.
Tourists appeared to concentrate more on the cuisine. That’s not surprising given the vastness of the menu. The Grand Tasting in one night offered food that normally would take months to sample. Many diners carried pens and paper to note their favorites for future visits.
And while food was clearly the draw, out-of-towners didn’t dawdle in a food coma. In between events, they said, they saw shows, gambled and toured Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon. Tourism officials estimate that last year’s Uncork'd generated $6.6 million for the Clark County economy.
The event, hosted by Bon Appetit, also cements Las Vegas’ rising status in the food world. The chefs served as ambassadors for the city.
Big-name cooks like Gordon Ramsay and Hubert Keller stood patiently as fans lined up for photographs. Restaurant hosts handed out menus and souvenirs and answered questions about their venues.
California resident Diane Olson beamed as she watched some of her favorite chefs from television cook live. Olson said she visits Las Vegas twice a year, but gained a new perspective this trip.
“The city seems to have cleaned up, and all the people we’ve encountered, the service people, seem so friendly,” she said. “Even though we’ve been here before, we’ve had a very positive experience.”