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Pool Deck Of The Gods: Sampling the best of Las Vegas.

Pool Deck Of The Gods: Sampling the best of Las Vegas.
What could easily have been a bloodbath, thankfully turned into a veritable chefs’ hoe-down as Sin City’s finest gathered for a Grand Tasting around the pool of Caesar’s Palace. Andrew Copestake joined them.

Here’s a question for you: Where might you find goose fat potato chips served with a foie gras dip, white gazpacho with marinated red flame grapes, and kobe beef tartare with black truffle vinaigrette and parmesan cheese all on the same menu? Correct answers on a postcard win…my undying devotion.

Of course, I’ve cheated a little. It would be a pretty extraordinary establishment that managed to purvey fish guru Rick Moonen’s New England Clam Bake, Kim Canteenwalla’s blue fin tuna slider and sugar cane shrimp combo and former Shanghai Terrace chef de cuisine Richard Chen’s smoked jasmine tea duck with lettuce scallion pickled mustard and green truffle dressing all under one roof.

For there was no roof; and there was no menu. This was the gathering of the Gods of Las Vegas’ culinary scene, part of the annual Vegas Uncork’d food festival; the Grand Tasting, a smorgasbord of culinary adventures held around the pool deck of Caesar’s Palace, in a city that has been named one of the top five restaurant cities in the US by Bon Appétit magazine, and number two among the world’s top gourmet destinations by Travelocity.

All the usual things Vegas does so well – shooting craps, strip joints and shows designed to awe you into submission – were happening not a million metres away. But around the Garden of the Gods, as Caesar’s Palace so fancifully call their pool oasis, it was culinary refinement at its finest.

Sure, there was the odd artificially inflated bosom, hair big enough to weave a cover for Nevada, and the occasional gold medallion fighting
Pool Deck Of The Gods: Sampling the best of Las Vegas.
curly chest hair, but they were easily consigned to a blindspot as chefs, including Alain Ducasse, Joël Robuchon and Michelin-three-star celebrated Bradley Ogden vyed for the attention of the hungry hundreds, many of whom had paid $150 for the chance to hob-nob with the great and the good (and to take a swig of Danny De Vito’s Limoncello).

Under a post-dusk sky, that had earlier been baked by temperatures close to 100°F, I joined the sway. With not enough hands and too many plates I managed to fail to make sufficient notes about my favourite dish, although I have it in mind it came from the hands of Tokyo-raised Yoshinori Nakazawa, master sushi chef at MGM Grand’s inventive Shibuya sushi joint. Whatever it was, it had a healthy helping of ginger to ease the digestion of Ralph Scamardella’s hearty meatballs, made with a sheep’s milk ricotta and dressed with sausage bolognese, and the generous, so-tender-it-might-have-just-walked-onto-the-plate, satay lamb chop with penang curry served up by Los Angeles born Jet Tila. A close second were those goose fat potato chips. But by the time I had gathered my composure Nakazawa had packed-up shop and gone to gossip with his fellow chefs.

Ah! Yes, even in this hotbed of commerce, where competition is rife, the atmosphere was convivial; more like a school reunion, if the school reuniting were the (fictional) International Academy of Master Chefs. The queues to get served were long, but democratically distributed and dealt with swiftly; there were plenty of local wines to quaff; and as the evening eased many shucked off their shoes and dipped their feet in the pool to cool down. The $150 admission was starting to look like the bargain of the century. One couple had travelled all the way from Western Australia just to be there; and they will probably return next year when, I have it on good authority, Las Vegas and Vegas Uncork’d will open its arms to an Invasion of the Brits.

I suggest you start making your travel plans now.

For more information on Vegas Uncork’d visit www.vegasuncorked.com  
For more information on Las Vegas visit www.visitlasvegas.co.uk or call 020 7367 0979. 
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11 May 2009
By: Andrew Copestake
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