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July 22, 2014

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Columnist Muriel Stevens: Beard left legacy of fine cooking, generosity

Muriel Stevens' dining column appears Fridays. Her shopping and travel columns appear Wednesday. Reach her at (702) 259-4080 or [email protected]

It was the New York Times that tagged James Beard "The Dean of American Cooking," but he was so much more.

May 2003 marked his centennial year, and it was the theme of the 13th Annual James Beard Foundation Awards dinner May 5 in New York.

President and Publisher for the James Beard Foundation, Len Pickell, recalled some of the highlights of the Awards weekend in his "Letter from the President" column in the spring 2003 issue of Beard House magazine:

"The Journalism Awards dinner featured chefs from Beard's home state, Oregon; Wolfgang Puck, the first chef ever to cook dinner at the Beard House (in 1987), with a team of his chefs, cooked Beard's 100th Birthday at the Four Seasons Restaurant, May 4th."

Pickell advises that the "awards weekend was just the beginning of more than a year's worth worth of centennial celebrations." Throughout the magazine are tributes to Beard from food writers and others whose lives were enriched by knowing him.

A few phone calls and one interview at a Chicago housewares show where he was appearing at the Corning booth were the only contact we had, but I've never forgotten his warmth and kindness. By the time I met him, his health was failing and, except for the time when he was speaking to the sizeable audience, he was in a wheelchair being navigated by his longtime friend, another culinary icon, Jacques Pepin.

After his appearance he invited me to accompany him as he "walked" the show. I was certain he would not do the interview. But he did. We talked during our walk and then he invited me to accompany him on the drive back to his hotel, where we would continue talking. It was a lovely interview; he had so much to say.

Beard died Jan. 21, 1985. He was 81. Thanks to the dedication of the James Beard Foundation founders and the members, he'll never be forgotten.

One of my favorite James Beard books among the dozens he wrote is "Delights and Prejudices," a memoir of his early life in Oregon. It was written in 1964. My copy was snatched by a friend who just wanted to "borrow" it overnight. I never saw it again until it was reprinted a few years ago. This time I bought two copies.

Bellagio center stage: For the first time, a Las Vegas resort will make a splash at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, June 13 to June 15.

The Bellagio will take center stage with a series of events that should be show-stoppers. Bellagio's newly appointed executive chef, Wolfgang von Wieser, previously with Four Seasons hotels in Las Vegas, Vancouver, Santa Barbara, Berlin, Mexico City and Melbourne, is an outstanding culinary craftsman and gentleman.

His award-winning cuisine can be sampled at the Grand Tasting Tent, where he will be joined other Bellagio stars: Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Phillippe Maury, Todd English (Olives), Michael Mina (Aqua and NOBHILL) and master mixologist Tony Abou Ganim, whose Tennessee highball and Cabana cocktail should make everyone happy. Picasso Chef Julian Serrano will add more luster to this celebrity lineup when he cooks for the festive Publisher's Dinner June 14.

Foodies who always flock to this major food and wine event will soon discover the pleasures of the table, Las Vegas-style.

Epicurean Affair: On June 17, Caesars Palace will once again open its lush Garden of the Gods to the Epicurean Affair, a walk-around dining event that takes place each year as the opening festivity for the Las Vegas International Hotel & Restaurant Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Dubbed "Bacchanalia II," the event will be competing with itself to gain national recognition. "Bacchanalia I" won a national award for "Best Hospitality Function in the United States." Quite impressive. Epicurean Affair is a joint venture with Nevada Restaurant Association and Nevada Hotel and Lodging Association.

The national honor given "Bacchanalia I" inspired the national organization, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, to join this year's LVIH&RS by bringing their West Coast meetings and seminars to Las Vegas. Another national plum for our city.

This makes George Markantonis very happy. Markantonis is senior vice president of hotel operations at Caesars Palace and is also chairman of the board of the Nevada Hotel & Lodging Association. "Because of our affiliation with national and all the hospitality dignitaries who will be in town for the show, the Epicurean Affair falls under the national spotlight. Once again, Las Vegas is on show and we won't let them down," said Markantonis.

Expect surprises galore and some alluring water activities. Bar Alley, an after-dining entertainment introduced at "Bacchanalia I," was so much in demand that it has been expanded.

According to Markantonis, this year's Epicurean Affair will be a tastefully seductive dining and wining amusement like no other.

Among the many hotels and restaurants participating are Jean-Marie Josselin's 8-0-8 and Bradley Ogden at Caesars Palace, Ah Sin at Paris Las Vegas, Bellagio, Buccaneer Bay at TI (Treasure Island), Smith & Wollensky, Japengo at the Hyatt at Lake Las Vegas, Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas; Rosemary's Restaurant, Hugo's Cellar at the Four Queens, Tsunami Asian Grill and Venus Bar at The Venetian and scads more.

Ticket prices are: $100 per person in advance; $850 for a table of 10 (put together a table); $120 at the door (after June 16). Call the Nevada Restaurant Association to order tickets by credit card or mail -- 878-2313.

A cookbook for Father's Day: When Italian-born food writer Tony Casillo's daughters became adults and set up their own homes, he was concerned that without him to watch over them, they wouldn't eat properly.

Casillo was raised in Florence and Naples with a closely knit extended family. When the family emigrated to Buffalo, N.Y., life wasn't easy. At the age of 12 he was preparing family meals.

Once out on his own, he traveled widely, always seeking out original recipes and ingredients to be shared with his family and readers. But the family's traditional recipes were the treasures. All of this is recalled in his memoir/cookbook, "Tony Casillo's Family Cookbook: A Treasure Trove of Recipes and Cooking Advice from a Dad to His Daughters." (Reader's Digest Books, $30)

The family photos are wonderful, the recipes down to earth and designed to appeal to anyone who thinks that a stop at a supermarket for take-out or a fast-food outlet is their destiny. I love Tony's letter to daughters Gina and Christina that recalls their family's dining habits and some tender family occasions. This is a straight-from-the-heart journal from a man who knows the importance of family ties and good nutrition.

It's a story told without pretense, but with generous helpings of common sense and love -- the best ingredients a dad who cooks (or not) can share with his children, male and female.

Short Orders

Something new at Ventano: The music of Robert Conti, "A superb classical guitarist," according to chef/owner Arnauld Briand. This mix of food, wine and entertainment at Ventano Italian restaurant in Henderson is delighting guests Sunday through Thursday, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Every Sunday and Monday enjoy the Wine of the Month at half the normal price. Available at dinner only from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Flay has his day: It won't be too much longer before Caesars Palace and Bobby Flay, chef/owner of Bolo and Mesa restaurants in NYC, announces that a Mesa restaurant will soon be on board. Flay, the cool star of the Food Network's "Food Nation," is enjoying quite a week. In Wednesday's New York Times food section, Food Critic William Grimes gave Bolo three stars. Bolo recently added Spanish-inspired tapas to the menu. Grimes not only extolled the food, but said that Bolo is better today than it was when it opened 10 years ago. I was certain he would not do the interview. But he did. We talked during our walk and then he invited me to accompany him on the drive back to his hotel, where we would continue talking. It was a lovely interview; he had so much to say.

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