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November 21, 2017

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Counter Intelligence: Tony Hsieh’s latest fave; $335,000 lab burger; James Beard


Joe Schoenmann

Tony Hsieh stands next to one of the empty storefronts on East Fremont Street. While the area is beginning to see signs of a business life, dozens of Hsieh’s employees at are working on visions to bring music, education, restaurants and other cultural amenities to the area, hopefully by the time the company moves its headquarters and 1,200 workers into City Hall in 2013.

More arts and entertainment

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Wolfgang Puck backstage at the 2012 Keep Memory Alive "Power of Love Gala" tribute to Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012.

Andrew Zimmern in Las Vegas

Andrew Zimmern, with crispy fried buttered worms, films at the Bellagio on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. Launch slideshow »

2012 KMA Power of Love Tribute to Ali: the Gala

Siegfried & Roy at the 2012 Keep Memory Alive Launch slideshow »

Truffle Delights at Valentino

Truffle delights at Valentino in the Venetian. Launch slideshow »
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The $5,000 burger.

ABC's The Big Time at Fleur

ABC's Launch slideshow »

Ramon Ayala Opens Cocina & Cantina in Primm

Ramon Ayala holds an accordion-shaped menu as he poses by a image of himself during the grand opening of Ramon Ayalas Cocina & Cantina at Buffalo Bills Resort in Primm Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. Known as the Launch slideshow »

Hot off the grill! One of the men who is single-handedly revitalizing downtown Las Vegas, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, is set to get credit for beginning a new dining experience there, too. Tony has reportedly persuaded the owners of New York’s Slice Perfect Food to open near his new corporate headquarters in downtown Las Vegas.

The super-pie restaurant on Manhattan’s Hudson Street is hailed for its organic menu, vegan options and mad-scientist pizza experiments and has become one of the hottest new restaurants of the winter. Back in our downtown, Le Thai has become one of Tony’s favorites, too.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! Chef Wolfgang Puck is starring in a new Las Vegas restaurant marketing TV movie, and I was with him on set at his Lupo in Mandalay Bay. Cameras recorded him leading pasta lessons and selecting fresh ingredients for restaurant menus.

The completed film will be shown on in-room TV screens at MGM properties here. Wolf, who was lead chef this past weekend for the 2,000 dinner guests at the Keep Memory Alive “Power of Love Gala” and 70th birthday tribute to Muhammad Ali at MGM Grand, also found time to film Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods,” in town to record the hit Travel Channel’s 100th episode. (Be sure to check out my interview with Andrew, at which I politely declined the crispy fried buttered worms!)

JAMES BEARD’S L.V. BEEF? Why is it that Las Vegas always seems to get the bum’s rush from the James Beard Foundation in its annual culinary awards? The five finalists in each category will be announced for the first time here at Venetian and Palazzo next month, but don’t expect to see many Las Vegas chefs or restaurants on the list.

Julian Serrano picked up nods for Picasso in the Bellagio for Outstanding Restaurant and Outstanding Wine. Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand received a tip of the toque for Outstanding Service. We had only one chef, Mitsuo Endo from Raku in Chinatown, listed in the Best Chef Southwest category. Our pal Pierro Selvaggio, who owns Valentino in the Venetian, was named a semifinalist as Outstanding Restaurateur, but for his Santa Monica, Calif., outlet. Scott Conant, a guest chef at the Ali gala, was named in the Best Chef NYC category for his work at Scarpetta in New York and not the outlet here at the Cosmopolitan.

So minimal recognition for Las Vegas -- San Francisco, L.A., Tampa, Portland and Seattle all scored better than us? Yet every food industry professional I speak with confirms that Las Vegas without a doubt is one of the top restaurant cities in America and the world. Now 550 judges narrow down the 20 semifinalists to get the five finalists in each category, with winners named at Lincoln Center in New York this spring. Congrats to our far-too-few local reps!

TASTY TRUFFLES: Every year, Pierro and chef partner Luciano Pellegrini pride themselves on the amazing white truffles they secure from Alba, Italy, for their annual truffle dinners. It’s become such a price-be-damned ritual that foodies flock to his Venetian restaurant for the tasty, high-priced treats. The rare and revered fungi keep going up in price annually due to increasing demand and decreasing supply, but Pierro promises that he will always have the best sources to export them from Italy.

PRICY LAB BURGER? A chemical laboratory beef burger that will sell for $335,000? That’s the price tag expected on an artificial burger that will look, feel and taste like the real thing (the cost of the study must account for the six figures). Dutch stem-cell scientist Dr. Mark Post progressed from mouse meat to artificial pork, and now comes the minced meat burger grown from cow muscle and fat stem cells under culture. London chef Heston Blumenthal, long rumored to be interested in a restaurant here, will cook the first one in October.

To date, the lab chef has created half-millimeter strips of “meat.” He says the world is using 70 percent of meat raised, but demand will double in the next 40 years, putting us in a position of unsustainable livestock farming. Thus lab-grown burgers!

WORLD’$ MOST EXPEN$IVE BURGER? Don’t scoff at high-priced burgers. Outside the lab, one can easily shell out thousands for the best. Mandalay Bay chef Hubert Keller has one on his Fleur menu for $5,000. For the moment, it’s the world’s most expensive and made from Kobe beef with foie gras, black truffles and a brioche truffle bun, and it is served with a 1990 bottle of Chateau Petrus.

RESTAURANT TAKEOVER: Hubert was joined by Mandalay Bay colleague Susan Feniger from Border Grill as mentors and judges for the new ABC series “The Big Time.” Sixty worldwide chefs were narrowed down to three contestants battling one another to take over Fleur for a night. They faced challenges including picking produce and playing kitchen-item blackjack. The winner was Michael Bergin, a sous chef from Boston who started out in the culinary world as a dishwasher.

He won the right to have his name atop Fleur for a night and cook a three-course menu for 300 guests. “That’s the largest number I’ve ever cooked for, but it was a chance in a lifetime to showcase what I could do,” Michael said. Hubert told me: “This was a totally different kind of cooking show. We have gone through so many challenges on ‘Top Chef’ that I wanted to take part in something completely different and creatively challenging. Michael even poached his lobster in Budweiser beer!”

RAMON AYALA’S FIRST: When you’ve had a 50-year music career, produced 105 albums and performed regularly on more than 150 U.S. and Mexican stages, you’ve earned the stature of star. Ramon Ayala also is known as “King of the Accordion,” and he’s now opened Ramon Ayala Cocina & Cantina at Buffalo Bill’s in Primm. He cut the crimson ribbon accented with hot peppers for the grand-opening fiesta complete with a mariachi band and posed for photos in front of a floor-to-ceiling mural with his favorite dish, machaca, as well as around the multi-colored island bar with his choices of tequila.

Ramon went into the kitchen to ceresin the chopping blocks and give line chefs last-minute pointers on how to perfect his favorite menu dishes. Executive chef Nester Rodriguez and head chef Jose Mora put a signature chef’s toque on Ramon’s head and told him to whip up a signature dish. He prepared taquitos finished with his favorite garnishes and presented it to an applauding audience. As part of his new partnership with Primm Valley, the Latin Grammy Award winner will play two concerts a year at Star of the Desert Arena and stop by his restaurant whenever he’s in town.

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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