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One saber and many chefs kick off Uncork’d 2009

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Mayor Goodman toasts the weekend backed my Las Vegas’ all star chefs.
Photo: Sarah Feldberg

To properly uncork a bottle of Champagne using a saber one must not only know how to wield the blade but also have the confidence to do so deftly and decisively. Any hesitation or a poorly aimed swing will yield a mess of foamy shattered glass and sliced palms. Lucky for the chefs, culinary devotees, media representatives and the media gathered atop Pure Thursday evening for the kickoff of the third annual Vegas Uncork’d, this wasn’t Guy Savoy’s first time swinging the sword.

The legendary French chef, whose Caesars Palace restaurant has been awarded the AAA Five –Diamond Award and was given Wine Spectator’s Grand Award in 2008, gave the weekend-long food and wine festival its official start by chopping off the top of a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Rose and letting loose an energetic stream of light pink foam.

Savoy passed the decapitated bottle off to fellow Frenchman and Caesars chef Francois Payard, and with raised glasses, a group of the finest chefs to don whites and the happiest mayor in the universe toasted the start of palate-thrilling weekend. Goodman, of course, drank gin.

Francois Payard pours himself a glass from the decapitated bottle on the Pure rooftop.

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Dapper in his typically dark suit, the Mayor told the crowd that he’d ripped up the speech written for him for the occasion. It said, he explained, that Las Vegas was “on the verge of becoming the culinary capital of the world.” After a brief pause he broke into a wide smile. “We already are.”

If the rows of chefs gathered behind him could be considered evidence – folks like Bobby Flay, Daniel Boulud, Cat Cora, Bradley Ogden, Paul Bartolotta, Carla Pellegrino and Kerry Simon – the Mayor was right.

“We don’t get to [get together] that often, so when we do it’s good,” said the Wynn’s Bartolotta, gripping the Travelocity gnome and still glowing from his Monday night win for Best Chef, Southwest at the 2009 James Beard Awards.

The famed chef said he was looking forward to defending his title as the blackjack champion at this year’s Uncork’d celebration. This year’s celebrity chef tournament takes place Friday night at Encore with the party migrating to XS after the cards have been laid down.

But not everybody’s mind was on the party.

“I’ve been working like a dog,” said Carla Pellegrino, executive chef of Rao’s at Caesars. Though Uncork’d officially began with the Mayor’s toast and Savoy’s saber, Pellegrino had been preparing for her Thursday evening Masters’ Series Dinner for hours before any of the festivities started. “I don’t even know how I’m standing up. I’m a dead dude,” she laughed.

An hour and half later, Pellegrino would still be standing as she welcomed guests to the intimate four course tasting dinner alongside her husband, Frank Pellegrino, Jr. and father-in-law, Frank Pellegrino, Sr. Co-hosted by Bon Appetite’s Cat Cora, the dinner included, among other things, Carla’s warm octopus and fava bean salad, Rao’s classic meatballs, a penne with Brussels sprouts and bacon and a melt-in-your-mouth peanut butter tart.

For Friday night’s Grand Tasting at Caesars Palace, Carla said she would be preparing miniature three cheese ravioli with radicchio and shredded Parma prosciutto as well as miniature cheesecakes.

“We’re going to keep everyone fat and happy,” she laughed.

On the lighter side, chef and TV personality Bobby Flay described his grand tasting dish as a smoked shrimp ceviche served with pineapple in a half coconut. Flay and his staff had gone to work on 450 coconuts for the occasion.

Flay said his first trip to Uncork’d serves multiple purposes: The foodie festival offers him a chance to visit Mesa Grill, his southwestern-inspired restaurant at Caesars Palace; an opportunity to promote his new cookbook released in April, Burgers, Fries and Shakes; and a weekend to eat and drink with other top chefs in the adult playground that is Las Vegas.

“It’s all bonding,” he said. “The camaraderie in the restaurant business is second to none.”

Flay pointed to Daniel Bould Brasserie, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar and Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Burger as some of his favorite places to eat while in town. And he had nothing but praise for the city’s culinary offerings.

“It’s right with [the top culinary destinations]. There’s so many great places to eat these days.”

At Uncork’d 2009 those places and the people behind them will serve up their very best for restaurant aficionados and insiders alike. In a word, the medley of flavors and festivities that make up Uncork’d 2009 are quite simply delicious.

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