Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 | 2:06 p.m.
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TV cameras rolled here for six days as “Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern filmed the milestone 100th episode of his top-rated Travel Channel series. Among the segments for the one-hour show were dining adventures with Hubert Keller from Fleur at Mandalay Bay with his $5,000 burger and the $750 cupcake at Sweet Surrender at the Palazzo.
Andrew, who lives in Minneapolis, dined with chefs Rick Moonen from RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay, Masa Takayama of Bar Masa at Aria and Paul Bartolotta from the Wynn. He went with Scott Conant from Scarpetta at the Cosmopolitan for the 12-course dinner by James Beard Award-winning chef Saipin Chutima at Lotus of Siam, and Bellagio executive chef Edmund Wong gave the cameras a behind-the-scenes tour of the extraordinary food-service operation.
“It’s a major one-hour salute to the chefs and foods of Las Vegas,” a production team member told me. “Las Vegas comes off looking great.”
I turned down Andrew’s kind offer of crispy, fried buttered worms when we met to talk poolside at the Bellagio! When he told me that he filmed at RC Farms recycling plant as the food waste from hotels and casinos was converted into food for the farm pigs, I didn’t dare ask if he’d sampled that. This is the man known, after all, for eating anything. And I mean anything.
“I’m really glad to be shooting here,” he told me. “It’s a natural fit for the show. I tried to come here two years ago, but logistics between the network and the hotels simply didn’t work out. I’m really happy we’re here for our 100th episode.
“It’s a full week of 17 hours a day filming in your desert kingdom. Las Vegas has matured more in two years than the 30 years before that I had been coming here regularly for fun. Vegas is legitimately in the Top Five of U.S. cities for great food and in the Top 10 globally.
“Until the great restaurants opened, it really was a city of shrimp, crab and maybe steak buffets. You’re a TV-friendly city, but I wanted to ensure we could tell real stories about the Vegas food scene and its maturity. Now you’ve reached the point where Vegas has its own chefs, its own flagship restaurants, and they’re expanding elsewhere because of their success here.
“The Vegas footprint has become very valuable. I’m also pleased we got to tell the story of Rick Moonen’s approach to sustainable seafood so we don’t destroy the oceans. That’s a message for every restaurant in America.”
With thoughts of worms, cockroaches, snakes and other creepy crawlies on his menu, I had to ask how he defined “bizarre foods.” “Food is really the lens into different cultures. Food is how you start to tell stories, so my definition is ‘fascinatingly different,’ ” he answered.
“I was stunned the day we spent in the Bellagio kitchen. It’s a city unto itself with 6,000 F&B employees turning out incredible meals, many on special order within tight time deadlines and never missing a beat.
“We filmed the army of chefs who turned out the impeccable four-course gala dinner for 2,000 guests at Muhammad Ali’s 70th celebration. Talk about culinary firepower to pull that off -- and again never missing a beat. This kind of magnitude could only be achieved in Las Vegas.”
The special century-mark episode airs this summer.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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