One of the most incredible trips I took this year was to Las Vegas, the dazzling city of 24-hour casinos, shows and parties built in the middle of the Nevada desert. The reason of my trip? I was in town to attend the 10th anniversary of Vegas Uncork’d, a four-day festival of culinary events featuring a star-studded world-class lineup of renowned chefs, sommeliers and mixologists.
Vegas Uncork’d is an annual food extravaganza organised by Bon Appétit and Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The event is jam-packed with extravagant soirees, dinners, cooking classes, wine tastings and food tours hosted within walking distance from each other at the Caesars Palace, The Cromwell, The Venetian and The Palazzo. It is a real showcase of what makes Las Vegas a major player in the culinary world.
Each Uncork’d event is individually ticketed, so I was able to pick my favourite events from the Uncork’d programme and build my own itinerary. The schedule was filled with enough events to satisfy every palate, including intimate dinners for a few guests and massive tasting events for thousands of people.
Saber-off at the Venetian
The 10th edition of Vegas Uncork’d officially started with a saber-off ceremony led by Daniel Boulud outside the Doge’s Palace at The Venetian.
I stood in line with other journalists and photographers trying to get the perfect shot of the chef as he clutched a sharp knife and lopped the top off a bottle of Mionetto Prosecco.
Dinner on the Strip at The Venetian
The celebrations kicked off with Dinner of the Strip, a Vegas-style feast of epic proportions cooked by chefs Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, Olivier Dubreuil, Kim Canteenwalla and David Werly.
Despite the bad weather conditions which forced the organisers to move the event from the piazza to the covered terrace of The Venetian, the dinner was great success. The setting was stunning: rows and rows of long tables with the stunning backdrop of Las Vegas Boulevard and the city skyline.
On the stage an amazing singer and band performed live cover songs bringing the house on fire.
Off the stage, a stunning line up of world-renowned chefs created an outstanding 7-course family-style feast for hundreds of guests.
Other dishes included Halibut with Spring Asparagus & Morel Nage by Lagasse, Porchetta, Wild Fennel & Truffle Farce by Canteenwalla, Cumin Chicken Tagine by Dubrueil, Vanilla & Strawberry Vacherine Glace by Werly.
Dinner on The Strip was my favourite Uncork’d event as it combined great food, a beautiful location, and a fabulous show.
Fête du Jardin: A Vegetarian Lunch with Daniel Boulud
Hosted by Bon Appétit editor in chief Adam Rapoport at db Brasserie at The Venetian, Fête du Jardin was a stunning lunch focused on delectable seasonal vegetables paired with wines from Alsace, Loire Valley and Burgundy.
The fine dining four-course lunch showcased Daniel Boulud’s signature French dishes, like the Spring Pea Soup with Creme Fraiche & Rosemary which is a classic on the menu of his New York restaurant (it features every year in May).
This intimate lunch was not only a chance for me to taste Boulud’s dishes for the first time, but also a unique opportunity to meet the Chef and ask him what inspired the idea of hosting a vegetarian feast at Vegas Uncork’d.
Today’s lunch is a tribute to my father and his garden. I grew up picking up vegetables, they were always a part of French cooking. [Daniel Boulud]
Grand Tasting at Caesars Palace
Set against the stunning backdrop of the Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis at Caesars Palace, the Grand Tasting was the biggest event at Vegas Uncork’d. It was an opportunity to meet the world’s most respected culinary figures, while sampling an insane amount of fine food, free-flowing wines and spirits from around the world.
I learnt that the 2016 edition was the biggest Grand Tasting to date, as it drew more than 50 star restaurateurs and nearly 3,000 guests.
The concept was similar to Taste of London, but way more glamorous and fun. The Grand Tasting general admission ticket ($225) includes unlimited food and drinks so you can really go crazy and try all the dishes from your favourite chefs.
The Grand Tasting was grand, glitzy, jam-packed and overwhelming, in a way that only Las Vegas can be. I wasn’t expecting anything this big. I spent the first hour wandering aimlessly from booth to booth, without eating or drinking because there was so much on offer that I didn’t know where to start. I was simply trying to make sense of the sensory overload (being massively jet-lagged didn’t help).
The Grand Tasting is mostly a standing affair (although you can book a table with VIP passes), so I spent most of the evening sampling bite-size dishes while leaning on high tables or queueing at the next booth.
I tried to eat as many of the Chef’s signature dishes as I could, including truffle burger and potted chocolate trifle by Gordon Ramsay, crispy duroc pork bao buns by Lavo, yellowtail tacos by Morimoto, tuna tartare by Sushi Roku and lamb chops with chimichurri by Mesa Grill. Drinks were mostly off limits as I was too busy to eat, but I did taste a delicious Malbec wine from an Argentinian producer.
After many rounds of the pool with a dish and glass in hand, I walked up to the terrace to find (at last!) a quiet area to sit down, drink a glass of Champagne and have a few minutes to myself to take it all in.
Personally I preferred more intimate Vegas Uncork’d events like the lunch with Daniel Boulud. Don’t judge me, but I like to sit down and enjoy a full meal from start to finish instead of hopping from stall to stall tasting too many things. I can’t deny though that the Grand Tasting was a memorable and fantastic event, very well organised and in a gorgeous setting.
Chef of the Gods at Caesars Palace
As part of Vegas Uncork’d, but also in honour of Caesars Palace’s 50th anniversary, the Las Vegas resort put on a cooking show and lunch for 1,000 guests hosted in the Octavius Ballroom.
The Caesars Palace most famous chefs – Gordon Ramsay, Guy Savoy and François Payard – took the stage to present cooking demos and hand out competition prizes that literally made the audience go wild. I have never seen so much excitement at a live cooking show. After watching Ramsay charm the audience for thirty minutes, it was easy to see why everyone loved him as he explained how to cook mushroom risotto, beef Wellington and pear tart tatin.
Francois Payard presented his homemade chocolates (of which I received a box to take away), while Guy Savoy and his Executive Chef Julien Asseo showed the audience how to make a black truffle and artichoke soup.
The event ended with a birthday cake and a celebration for the Caesars Palace 50th birthday.
The Ultimate Comforts & Classics Affair
For my last Vegas Uncork’d event – The Ultimate Comforts & Classic Affair party by Bon Appétit – I headed off the Strip to Downtown Las Vegas, one of the city’s newest dining hot spots. The event took place at Downtown Container Park on Fremont Street, an open-air shopping centre with retail shops and restaurants.
When I checked the Uncork’d schedule and read that Bon Appétit was going to throw a street party in Downtown Las Vegas, I immediately signed up for it. The Las Vegas Strip is amazing and I loved staying there, but it felt really good to get off it to explore other parts (equally entertaining but much less touristic) of the city.
The event at Container Park featured the limited edition Crackle Burger from Shake Shack, dishes from Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, ramen bowls from Itsy Bitsy Ramen; craft beers; and music from a local rock band called Stoked. I was blown away by how talented the band was. The music scene in Las Vegas is just incredible!
This event concluded my experience of Vegas Uncork’d, but there is so much more I want to share with you about my visit to Las Vegas. I thought I wouldn’t like Vegas, but like many things in life, we live to learn that what we thought we knew is wrong.
I discovered that there are many things to do in Las Vegas beyond the gambling and especially the food and music scenes are excellent. I had a truly amazing time in Las Vegas and I can’t wait to visit it again.
Disclaimer: I attended Vegas Uncork’d as part of a trip organised by the Las Vegas Tourism Board. All opinions are my own.