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July 20, 2017

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Photos: La Cucina Italiana at Venetian, Palazzo — four days of star chefs, fab food, wondrous wines


David Tingey/

Bella Notte at the 2013 La Cucina Italiana Food and Wine Festival on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.

2013 La Cucina Italiana: Palazzo Chefs

Palazzo chefs of the 2013 La Cucina Italiana Food and Wine Festival with F&B Vice President Sebastien Silvestri at the Venetian and Palazzo from Dec. 5-8, 2013. Launch slideshow »

It was a four-day epicurean extravaganza of star chef dinners and culinary king workshops crowned by the ultimate family-style, sit-down dinner for 200 VIPs from all over the world at a 300-foot-long table built especially for one grand banquet.

Construction alone ran $100,000. Add in entertainment by former “Phantom — the Las Vegas Spectacular” star Kristen Hertzenberg and Smith Center resident singer Clint Holmes, service by 50 wait staff, dinner settings, candles and other table decorations, and it’s understandable why it was dubbed the $1 million table with a $10 million meal.

The Venetian now plans to offer it for future corporate events with the $1 million price tag. TV super chef Mario Batali hosted, with yours truly as MC — and a big thank you to contributing photographers Tom Donoghue and David Tingey for their five fabulous photo galleries.

World-famous singing butcher Dario Cecchini, who flew in from his Tuscan home in Panzana, Italy, recited portions from memory of Dante’s “Inferno” while standing atop the table blowing an Italian trumpet. World-renowned vintners and food fanatics cheered him on, among them “Cake Boss” star Buddy Valastro and Italian food writer Faith Willinger.

The four-day La Cucina Italiana Food and Wine Festival was part of the Venetian’s third-annual Winter in Venice celebration and certainly its most ambitious salute to Italian gastronomy to date. It was a landmark collaboration between America’s best Italian chefs and their European counterparts.

The Venetian features more restaurants by James Beard Award-winning chefs than any other hotel. In addition to three nights of spectacular dinners, there were food expert demonstrations covering everything from pizza making to pasta shapes, from gelatos to BelGioioso cheeses and a final truffle hunt.

2013 La Cucina Italiana: Cut

The first-night dinner of the 2013 La Cucina Italiana Food and Wine Festival at Cut steakhouse on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in Palazzo. Launch slideshow »


Celebrated chef Wolfgang Puck kicked off the extravaganza flying in from Los Angeles en route to Florida to help Dario cook along with his Las Vegas chefs for the first night’s dinner party at his Cut steakhouse in Palazzo.

Chefs and winemakers, including the heads of Italy’s Top Five wineries, were welcomed by Venetian and Palazzo President John Caparella, who days earlier was named Hotelier of the Year by the Nevada Hotel Lodging Association.

They met members of the world’s food media — then promptly climbed aboard gondolas for a canal ride through the Venetian. Proceeds of La Cucina went to benefit our charity Keep Memory Alive, so guests toured the downtown Frank Gehry-designed Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health with founder Larry Ruvo.

2013 La Cucina Italiana: Grand Colonnade at Venetian

The second-night dinner of the 2013 La Cucina Italiana Food and Wine Festival at the Grand Colonnade on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, in the Venetian. Launch slideshow »


The second-night banquet at the Venetian’s Grand Colonnade hallway re-created ultimate Italian feasts. “This format will conjure up meals eaten in Italy where banquets are spread out quite literally in the middle of a street. Though something you often find in a Tuscan or Umbrian village, it is a novelty in this country, especially in the heart of a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip,” explained Mario.

“Eloquently blending the finest Italian food with extraordinary vintages from renowned Italian wine producers is an opportunity very few people have ever experienced.”

Clint and Kristen had to speed walk to cover the eighth-of-a-mile loop for their Christmas carols and holiday songs. Mario’s chefs, including Carnevino’s Nicole Brisson and his executive chef Jason Neve and his team at B&B, Otto and the new B&B Burger Beer Bar produced the amazing six-course meal.

“This was the porchetta to end all porchettas,” said Mario proudly. Everything was served family-style except for the caviar on burrata and the risotto courses. Mario’s father Armando flew in from his own butchery in Seattle to enjoy the flawless meal.

To celebrate the official opening of his B&B Burger Beer by the Venetian sports book, Mario invited all 200 diners for an after-party with shots served on the Strip-front patio garden.

2013 La Cucina Italiana: How to Italian

How to Italian at the 2013 La Cucina Italiana Food and Wine Festival at the Atrium Waterfall on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Palazzo. Launch slideshow »


Saturday’s “How to Italian” at the Palazzo’s Waterfall Atrium featured hands-on demonstrations and instructions with Italian products, a pizza-making class by Roberto Caporuscio from Naples, Buddy V’s cake-making class and a hilarious Abbot and Costello butchering session with Mario and Dario.

2013 La Cucina Italiana: Bella Notte

Buddy Valastro at Bella Notte at the 2013 La Cucina Italiana Food and Wine Festival on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Launch slideshow »


The good times kept rolling Saturday night with the dinner Bella Notte to honor Italian Americans for their influence on U.S culture. A golden pig was presented to Dario, and plaques were awarded to Mario, Buddy and Winebow importer Leonardo Locascio. Entertainer Jimmy Hopper, who revealed that he’s moving back home to Las Vegas at the end of next month, dazzled with his band.

Sunday’s final event was an Urbani truffle hunt through three of Mario’s restaurants as brunch with bellinis was served. Guests gave the four-day spectacular a unanimous two thumbs’ up verdict. Even the chefs who worked around the clock over the four days raved about its success.

Sebastien Silvestri, VP of Food & Beverage, told me: “When absolutely everybody tells you it was superb, it’s hard to believe we could possibly make it bigger or better. They all want to return for our next winter carnival, so we will just have to try to make it even more incredible.”

The food festivities continue next weekend with “Top Chef” judge and restaurateur Emeril Lagasse joining me to judge and host the second-annual Culinary Clash master chef competition over two nights. Emeril also will welcome guests at the return of the sixth-annual Carnival of Cuisine food festival around the Palazzo pool deck. More than 20 restaurants from the Venetian and Palazzo will participate to benefit Three Square food bank.

Mario and Buddy agreed: “We’ve seen, attended and taken part in many Italian food festivals, but this one was absolutely the best!”

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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