Isaac Brekken for Bon Appetit
Wednesday, March 9, 2016 | 11:59 p.m.
For the last decade, foodies from across America have joined Las Vegas fans of celebrity chefs and fabulous restaurants for Vegas Uncork’d, the annual festival of fine food and wondrous wines sponsored by Bon Appetit. It has been a success from the start.
Now we’re getting ready for some surprises as VUBBA gets ready to showcase the very best eating and drinking that Las Vegas has to offer for four days from April 28 to May 1. Bon Appetit Editor in Chief Adam Rapoport conducted his annual pre-festival checkup and visited with our chefs and restaurants playing a key role this year.
New this year:
• Vegas Uncork’d will tour the new up-and-coming restaurants of downtown.
• Famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa will host his own Master’s Dinner with a $1,000-a-plate ticket going to our beloved charity Keep Memory Alive at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health downtown.
• There will be a nighttime, outdoor, multi-course dinner right on the Strip at Doges Palace at the Venetian’s forecourt with star chefs Emeril Lagasse and Daniel Boulud joined by Buddy V’s Kim Canteenwalla, Mandarin Oriental’s David Werly and the Venetian’s Olivier Dubreuil.
It’s feasts like never before, and Adam is ecstatic as to what’s already on the burner. I talked with him before I left for Cabo San Lucas:
Congratulations on 10 years. Did you believe it would run this long?
I don’t even feel that old. For me, this will be year six, and the honest answer is yes because, being blunt about it, Las Vegas has way too much to offer to not have a top-tier food festival. With all the amazing restaurants and chefs and all the other attractions that Las Vegas offers year round, how can you not have a food festival here?
Your personal couple of highlights this year? The Grand Tasting, the Nobu $1,000 dinner for Keep Memory Alive and the outdoor dining for maybe 500 people at the Venetian?
I think that’s great. I love the Nobu dinner, the fact that the proceeds are going to the Keep Memory Alive charity. I think that’s something that should be done more — I love that. What’s fascinating about Nobu … how many Nobus are there around the world now — 29?
So how often do you get to dine with Nobu himself and have him make the meal for you, and him pick the fish, and him decide what is the best possible best thing to eat that moment? Not that often. The guy is such a genius and has shaped the way we as a country eat right now.
His influence is massive, so to be able to sit down at a sushi counter with him and see him do his thing and remember that first and foremost he’s a spectacular chef, so to have that intimacy is something you’re not going to be getting anywhere else. So that’s amazing.
Then the flip side of that for $500 out at the Venetian on the Strip outdoors with Emeril Lagasse rolling with Daniel Boulud, that’s a spectacular on a grand stage that I think you know really only Las Vegas can do. I’m still amazed year after year at the Grand Tasting.
I’ll be at the Caesars pool at 3 p.m., and there are still people in the water just starting to shut down, then by 8 p.m., they’re in a food wonderland. It’s kind of insane. That’s one of those things that literally only happens in Las Vegas. You’d try to do get that done in New York, forget about it, that’s too crazy to imagine.
It’s not the first year that you’ve branched out to Venetian chefs.
A couple of years ago, we did a golf tournament with Mario Batali. We’re excited to have Daniel Boulud and Emeril Lagasse this year. These are the guys who appreciate the fun side of Las Vegas. I just love their ambition. I think they are perfect for what we do here.
Think back to just after last year’s Vegas Uncork’d. What kind of reaction did you get from foodies and Bon Appetit readers?
People have just always been positive. I think what’s nice about Las Vegas, and I think it’s always been a strength especially in the last five years I’ve been involved, is that foodies get to sort of plot their own course when they’re here. They get to choose what event they want to go to whether it’s an intimate dinner, whether it’s a wine tasting, and make their own holiday or vacation while they’re here.
A lot of other food festivals, you buy one ticket, you’re in the field all day with the white pants — it’s a different experience. That’s not to say those chefs don’t have a lot going for them, either, but, like I said, Las Vegas is unique, and your chefs customize the experience while you’re here. So you get to go to things that you want to go to, then when you’re not there, you’re at the pool, you’re at a table, you’re seeing a show, you’re golfing. You can really make a long, great weekend out of it.
Adam, it’s obviously been a growing success over the years. It has been capped at a couple of thousand guests so that everybody gets to see and do everything, and it’s comfortable from start to finish.
I’m more involved on a micro level making sure each event is interesting and provocative. I love things where dinners have a point-of-view and a personality. Like Nobu, they feel unique and special. This year we’re also branching off the Strip, finally, which I’m really excited about. We’re doing something down at the Container Park, kind of like a Saturday night party.
Before that, we’re doing a tasting tour of a lot of the downtown restaurants, and Andrew Knowlton, our restaurant writer, is guiding people through because I think Las Vegas as a city has so much to offer in addition to what the average tourist sees here on the Strip. I want to show a side of Las Vegas that the locals know but maybe a lot of the tourists don’t know.
As you plan for a second decade, do you ever see this expanding from the Thursday night through Sunday to perhaps a weeklong series of events?
That’s less of my decision, but, personally, I prefer quality over quantity, make it feel special. I think if you start to overextend yourself, it begins to feel less special, less of a moment and more of an ongoing thing. So of course I like the fact that it doesn’t go on a week. You get what you can and feel like one of the lucky few. Also in the last couple of years, Sunday felt as sort of expanded by adding more events on a Sunday, which was never the case early on.
Your other personal highlights this year?
We have Giada De Laurentiis involved this year, her restaurant at the Cromwell. She participated a couple of years ago with Bobby Flay at Mesa Grill at Caesars, but she’s never hosted an event herself, and I think that’s just such a-no brainer. I had breakfast at that restaurant, and I love the fact that you’re sort of inside outside overlooking the Strip.
I think the Grand Tasting is great. I wish that I could take credit for what a production that is, but I just show up and am amazed every year how well it’s pulled off. And, like I said, going downtown and showing people a side of Las Vegas I think the average person does not know.
The so-called bad boy of the food world Gordon Ramsay is back ready to carve up a few people at his event. Do the non-reality-TV-show participants love getting roasted by him?
I think we’re going to find out. Listen, I’m a Gordon Ramsay fan … how hard that guy works, how he’s able to do all he does. I did an interview with him last year, when he’s not on TV or in his restaurants, he’s running marathons. I don’t understand how he does what he does.
He sort of earns the right to go off on people because I don’t think there is anyone who works harder than that man. He’s a big, strong man who I don’t want to mess with. I always make sure I’m really nice to Gordon when I run into him. I make sure I’m on my best behavior.
Is the interest in the food word still growing?
Yes. We just did this in our March issue, our food culture issue on how food is sort of crossing so many barriers now. It used to just be the foodies were into food, and now food is in politics and sports and music and Beyonce walking around with her kale T-shirt. You’ve got the president going to these hip restaurants in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Food is such a thing now on a pop culture level beyond just the food world that I don’t know if we saw it coming. A lot of it has to do with our smart phones that we’re attached to day and night, and everyone’s seeing what everyone is eating at every moment, where they’re going out to eat, what they’re ordering, taking photos.
So even when you’re not eating, you’re thinking about eating. You’re on Instagram, Twitter, you’re very aware of what’s happening at all times and all places. It’s like you’re always hungry now.
And always hungry for even more.
Exactly. And there’s always more. That’s the problem — but a good one!
For the full schedule and ticket information, go to VegasUncorked.com.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
In the spirit of Venice, The Venetian is a little piece of romantic Italy right here in Las Vegas. The Venetian is an "all-suite" hotel, with rooms accented with plush linens and Italian marble. The 4,027 suites are divided into two towers: The 36-story Venetian Tower that offers guests a taste of luxurious Las Vegas and the Venezia suites, which guarantee 12 floors of high-end elegance. The top five floors are the hotel's highest level of luxury with its private access, concierge lounge, upgraded features and even a dedicated staff.
The flagship of Venetian nightlife is TAO, an ultra-hip nightclub located inside of TAO Asian Bistro. V Bar is The Venetian's super smooth ultra lounge, made by the owners of New York City's club Lotus and Los Angeles' super swank Sunset Room.
The Venetian features 19 restaurants including Thomas Keller's award-winning French restaurant Bouchon, Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante, Aquaknox for fresh seafood and the 42,000 square foot TAO Asian Bistro. There's also the food court inside the Canal Shoppes for those looking for a quick bite.
Guests can float along The Grand Canal Shops in an authentic Italian gondola ride and pass stores like Burberry and Kenneth Cole along the way. And if you haven't caught a real celeb, on the street in Vegas, you can head over to Madame Tussauds to check out a wax version.
Transport yourself to the opulent and excessive Roman Empire at Caesars Palace. But the ever-changing Caesars Palace is far from ancient. The hotel and casino is constantly raising the bar for what visitors can expect in a Vegas resort experience.
Caesars Palace features 3,348 rooms and suites in five towers, including the new luxury boutique Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, which opened Feb. 4, 2013, in the totally remodeled Centurian Tower. Caesars features 129,000 square feet of gaming space, including the Strip’s largest poker room and a 250-seat sports book. Other amenities include about two dozen restaurants, a four-level shopping mall, four pools, a spa, Pure and Poetry nightclubs and Pussycat Dolls.
Dining options include restaurants from world-renown chefs Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and, on Feb. 4, 2013, Nobu Matsuhisa.
You never know what characters you’ll run into at Caesars with regular performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Elton John and maybe even the emperor himself.