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Beautiful People: Blue Ribbon’s Bruce Bromberg on cooking up a Vegas festival

It’ll be like a county fair—with way better food.

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Bruce Bromberg with the fried chicken you’ll be devouring all weekend.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

Bruce Bromberg has a theory about mixing food with fun: The more fun you have, the better the food tastes.

“Part of the enjoyment of food is the atmosphere, the experience around you,” Bromberg says. “If you are sitting there watching a great band and eating chicken wings, those are some great chicken wings.”

They are killer wings, especially if that band is The Killers.

Bromberg and his brother, Eric, are co-founders of Blue Ribbon Restaurant Group and co-chairmen of the Life Is Beautiful culinary advisory board for the music, food and arts festival set for October 26 & 27 in Downtown Las Vegas.

The Bromberg brothers started Blue Ribbon in 1992, establishing roots in New York and opening their first Las Vegas outpost in 2010 with Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill at the Cosmopolitan.

That’s where the idea of Life is Beautiful began to, uh, simmer. The Brombergs became friendly with the Cosmo’s then-entertainment director, Rehan Choudhry. It swiftly became apparent that Choudhry was looking beyond booking acts into the hotel’s entertainment venues, and he found eager visionary confidants in the Bromberg boys.

“We spent an awful lot of time together in two years of working at the Cosmo, we became good friends and kind of talked about lots of things at the hotel and especially worked on the integration of food and concerts,” Bruce Bromberg says. “When he left and the opportunity arose for a festival, we talked about various festival concepts. We shared this idea of putting food and music together on the same level, not music with good food, and not a food festival with a couple of good bands.”

Bromberg says the original idea was a one-day Downtown festival of maybe 5,000-7,000 attendees with maybe just him supplying the food.

“Then we met Tony Hsieh, and our idea picked up overnight,” Bromberg says. “That’s pretty much how Life Is Beautiful was born.”

When describing how food will be enmeshed into the festival experience, Bromberg talks of Brooklyn Bowl. Blue Ribbon is the culinary partner with the entertainment complex in New York, which is opening a bowling, music and food fortress at the Linq in Las Vegas in 2014. Bromberg says it’s about bringing food and music together, much like they do at Brooklyn Bowl.

“What’s really important to me is the concept and sentiment that people have when they are [at the festival], whether you’re eating the most ethereal bowl of pasta or just enjoying an amazing weekend. What we’re after is an overall assault on the senses.”

The LIB culinary program’s advisory board is dotted with some of the most famous names in the food culture, and those who helped coordinate the edible portion of the festival include chefs Kim Canteenwalla (Honey Salt), Scott Conant (Scarpetta and D.O.C.G.), Chris Cosentino (Incanto and Boccalone Salumeria in San Francisco) Michael Mina (American Fish, Michael Mina, Stripsteak and Pub 1842), Hubert Keller (Fleur and Burger Bar), Donald Link (Herbsaint and Cochon & Cochon Butcher in New Orleans), Rick Moonen (RM Seafood and Rx Boiler Room), Jet Tila (owner of the Charleston in Santa Monica, California), and Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto in New York).

The main food component of LIB is the event’s Culinary Village, set in the heart of the festival, where more than 50 restaurants will dole out dishes for $10 or less. Many of the chefs will also appear in the Chefs on Stage series in the Culinary Village, with crossover highlights like Tila appearing with Ben McKee of Imagine Dragons and the Brombergs with Vernon Reid of Living Color.

“You will see some really great chefs and some really great musicians,” Bromberg says. “You might see a chef or two with a guitar, and if someone is roasting a side of beef, more power to them. But what we’re looking for is less-produced food that you can eat while walking around a big festival.”

Could the culinary approach be something like a county fair?

“Oh yeah, this is like a county fair where the food is way, way better,” Bromberg says. “As far as creating an elevated experience, that will happen no matter what. If you are looking for the smoothest experience—maybe not. But it will be memorable, that much I can promise.”

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