Recently, the majestic glow of a purple mountain sunset was replaced with the glittering Las Vegas Strip. Ever since seeing Colorado picnic tables transform into Vegas poker tables, nothing has seemed quite the same. Las Vegas is a spectacle city. If New York is the “city that never sleeps,” than Vegas is the “city that never clocks out.” A never-ending strive for excellence is what makes this place is so incredible.
I was introduced to this concept working on FOOD & WINE All-Star Weekend – featuring a collection of the best celebrity chefs from four of MGM Resorts’ properties – hosting extravagant events over a weekend in October. And I played a major role in garnering coverage (over 200 million media impressions!) for it.
The excitement of securing top-tier press coverage was only topped by naturally… working the events
Friday – ARIA Resort & Casino
To understand my perspective of living out this foodie fantasy, it must be noted that it seemed like yesterday that half of my week’s meals consisted of a pack of ramen, a bottle of Sriracha and tall can of Arizona Ice Tea – Yes, those were simpler times. Then, in the blink of an eye, I am standing with a group of influential journalists in ARIA Resort & Casino as the great Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten walks us through the preparation of his world-renowned steaks.
My mouth watered as Jean-Georges sliced and diced up seven different types of beef, including Kobe and Australian Wagyu. I gloated to one journalist that I had once gotten to eat Kobe beef – when I was in the city of Kobe, Japan. I took one bite of Jean-Georges’ steak – the journalist asked me how it compares – I cannot tell you if it was because I was simply speechless or because my mouth was savoring every last particle of the tasty goodness, but I closed my eyes, bobbed my head, and gave out a muffled “mmmmmmm.”
My love of food runs deep and Jean-Georges’ steaks found a way to dig even deeper to make me a bonafide groupie for that man’s cooking. Wait did I mention that this was supposed to be an appetizer before our actual lunch? Yeah, nothing says Vegas like steak as a snack.
So we headed downstairs to Tetsu for “lunch.” How can this next hour even come close to living up to the past hour? Oh, how about have one of the greatest Japanese chefs in the world, Masa Takayama, personally cooking my lunch. For those who aren’t familiar, Chef Masa is just as much of an artist as he is a chef. The way he craftily maneuvers and swiftly slices the meat on the teppan grill is truly something to behold. Much different than watching me in the kitchen as the water in my pot of spaghetti boils over and makes a mess. The Forbes/Michelin Guide and AAA aren’t exactly waiting at my doorstep.
Saturday – Mandalay Bay
I stirred awake the next day with the most pleasant feeling. It is hard to describe this inner warmth, but it was probably due to the price of the food sitting inside me could pay my next month’s rent.
My assignment was at Aureole in Mandalay Bay, where Executive Chef Vincent Pouessel led a demonstration on hand-making seasonal pasta. Gnocchi. Braised-beef Ravioli. So much pasta, it would make an Italian mobster blush. I watched in amazement as the kitchen seamlessly operated like a well-oiled machine. Cutting, stirring, boiling, filling. A photographer noticed my intrigue and asked if I cook myself – flashback to my wildly boiling pot of spaghetti– I slyly said, “I dabble in the kitchen.”
Next came the marquee event of the weekend – The Surfside Soiree at Mandalay Bay Beach. Mandalay Bay Beach is a place I am familiar with. However, my experiences there used to involve board shorts and a Fat Tuesday in my hand. Now in dress shoes (not ideal for sand), I readied myself for poolside cookout with the food provided by none other than the impressive lineup of Mandalay Bay’s celebrity chefs: Hubert Keller, Michael Mina, Rick Moonen, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Miliken to name a few.
Moonen provided personalized bouillabaisses of his legendary seafood. Feniger roasted an 80-pound pig that was bigger than her. Mina’s seared shrimp still has me daydreaming. Let’s face it. I was in foodie heaven. Food Network would be envious of my experiences that weekend. How could I go back and face my microwave Lean Cuisine for dinner? It would be a slap it in the face, for my stomach.
I opened my fridge. Out poured the aroma of vacancy– I guess I ate all my Lean Cuisine on Thursday. The stale hot pockets were joined by a jar of dated marinara sauce and two bottles of Budweiser. Back to reality I guess. I plopped down on the couch. How can I go on? I turned on the television and in a blink of an eye my worries were gone. Thank goodness for football.
˜Robert J.S. Flicker