Tuesday, April 23, 2013 | 11:58 p.m.
It has to be an only in Las Vegas epic event. Four nights of everything you ever wanted to drink in champagne, sake, wines and beers -- and in nearly unlimited quantities. The 39th annual UNLVino that raises scholarship funds for our UNLV hospitality students was another blockbuster success and for the first time expanded from three evenings to a fourth day with a Bar-B-Q.
BUBBLE-LICIOUS AT THE VENETIAN
It kicked off with Bubble-Licious at The Venetian, where chef Thomas Keller (Bouchon at The Venetian) was honored with the Dom Perignon Award of Excellence. I had the pleasure of introducing him, and he said:
“I can’t tell you how incredibly honored I am to be standing here tonight in front of all of you and the students of UNLV. The reason I’m standing here is because of them. We raise millions of dollars for the scholarship fund to help these students realize their dreams. I was able to realize my dreams because I had people surrounding me and supporting me throughout my life.”
Thomas also passed on some advice to the student volunteers: “Whatever you’re doing, be patient. Take your time. Learn your skills. Learn your craft. And don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something. And whatever happens, continue to stay true to who you are, stay true to your goals, and, believe me, you’ll be fine.”
Southern Wine & Spirits’ CEO Larry Ruvo said, “Enormous celebrities and bon vivants from around the world want to come and taste this culinary genius’ food. And, fortunate for us, Thomas Keller understands his roots and is a huge supporter of the Las Vegas community. Having Thomas Keller here is like bringing The Rat Pack back. He is a person that the culinary world identifies with an Academy Award. For us to have this culinary genius, this God-given talent in our city, is incredible.”
UNLV Dean Don Snyder presented Thomas with a framed chef’s jacket signed by 25 UNLVino student managers. Our thanks to contributing photographer Tom Donoghue for all of his UNLVino photos.
The night started with the UNLVino signature “21 Cork Salute,” where 21 sommeliers from UNLV and Southern Wine simultaneously popped corks off 21 bottles of Dom Perignon. Guests sampled more than 100 varieties of champagne, sparkling wines and specialty beverages, plus, signature dishes from Venetian restaurants.
SAKE FEVER AT THE MIRAGE
UNLVino continued with Sake Fever poolside at The Mirage when “Iron Chef” superstar Masaharu Morimoto was presented with his Dom Perignon Award of Excellence celebrating his recent Culinary Hall of Fame induction, his collection of renowned restaurants and his unrivaled win-loss record on “Iron Chef.”
He said, “Las Vegas is my dream city. I am very honored by this event. When I came to the United States in 1985, I would have never imagined a sake festival, and now here are thousands of people at Sake Fever. I have been in this country for 30-something years, and, yes, I still I have a language problem, but I can sing!”
To the surprise of the crowd, Morimoto belted out a Japanese song that had them roaring with applause. Guests were welcomed by the sounds of Japanese drums performed by Karabo Taiko Drums. Morimoto even tried to play them!
Guests sampled 100 imported and domestically brewed sakes and beers, plus, dishes from Las Vegas restaurants including Aburiya Raku, Fin, Island Sushi Hawaiian Grill, Japonais Restaurant and Lounge, Kabuki Japanese Restaurant, Monta Ramen, Social House, Sushi Samba, Zenshin and Naked Fish, whose chefs cut up fresh sashimi from a 250-pound tuna.
Southern Wine Marketing & Events Director Michael Severino said, “Las Vegas marquees are famous for featuring the one-named star, like Sinatra or Elvis, but this year, Sake Fever got it right by honoring Morimoto.” Morimoto had been expected to announce his new restaurant opening at The Mirage, but, although it’s all set for him, hotel execs decided to turn it into a larger party later not overshadowed by UNLVino.
An official sake barrel ceremony demonstrating the tradition of warding off bad spirits took place on the main stage with the group using wooden hammers to break open a decorated, large wooden barrel of sake.
GRAND TASTING AT PARIS
The Grand Tasting at the Paris continued UNLVino honoring restaurateur Elizabeth Blau with the Award of Excellence. Her husband, chef Kim Canteenwalla of Summerlin’s Honey Salt, and her parents Lynn and Jeffrey Blau were there to congratulate her.
Said Elizabeth: “I’ve been involved with UNLV since I came to Las Vegas. I’ve been on the dean’s advisory board for more than 10 years, and I’m incredibly passionate about UNLV. The students here in Las Vegas have the most unique opportunity because they are in the greatest learning laboratory in the world. To be able to go to school, live and work here in Las Vegas is really quite extraordinary. I’m thrilled to be here and very proud to accept this award from Dom Perignon, which also happens to be my favorite champagne!”
Guests sampled more than 500 wines and signature dishes prepared by UNLV’s talented culinary students, including oysters and shrimp cocktails chilled around an Eiffel Tower ice sculpture. A live auction included a world whiskey tour for 10 people with Master Mixologist Francesco Lafranconi. The two biggest-ticket items were a Romero Britto original painting, created for UNLVino, which sold for $15,500; and a five-course meal with wine and cocktail pairings for 15 people prepared by talented culinary students from UNLV’s Hotel College that sold three times for $3,000 each.
BAR-B-Q AT LOU RUVO CENTER
UNLVino presented its first mixology-focused BAR-B-Q, wrapping four days of beverage bacchanalia. Guest chefs on the grills set up at the Keep Memory Alive event center at The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health included Scott Conant, Angelo Sosa and Gustav Mauler. Scott Sibella, president of MGM Grand and a UNLV alumnus, was honored with the Award of Excellence. He graduated in 1988 with a bachelor’s in Hotel Administration and in 2007 was selected as Alumnus of the Year.
Scott said: “UNLV was good to me, and it’s my obligation to give back. My degree and experience, which my internship was a huge part of, really helped me lay a foundation and eventually helped my career take off. The Harrah Hotel College has come a long way, and we need to let more people know that it’s the best education out there for the hospitality industry.
“We have more practical experience right around the corner from the university than anywhere else in the world. My motto is ‘Don’t let anything hold you back -- be aggressive!’ There are so many opportunities in this industry that you can’t be afraid to just put yourself out there and find them.”
Plans are already under way for next year’s milestone 40th anniversary celebration, and organizers tell me there will be even more surprises in 2014.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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MGM Grand, a AAA Four Diamond resort, offers 5,044 rooms and suites.
MGM Grand features KÀ by Cirque du Soleil; Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club; and world-class entertainment at the Grand Garden Arena and Hollywood Theatre.
The resort offers signature restaurants by celebrity chefs including Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak, Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans Fish House, Wolfgang Puck’s Bar & Grill and Michelin three star and Forbes Five Star restaurant, Joël Robuchon.
As part of its ongoing “Grand Renovation,” MGM Grand has remodeled all rooms and suites in its main tower and is adding several new experiences to its lineup including Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub, a new upscale dining/nightlife concept (coming in April 2013).
MGM Grand also features a state-of-the-art, non-smoking conference center, the Grand Spa, Cristophe Salon, "CSI: The Experience" and an inviting pool complex featuring the tantalizing daylife of Wet Republic.
Upscale accommodations include The Mansion, an exclusive hotel within the hotel; the luxurious two-story SKYLOFTS at MGM Grand; and The Signature at MGM Grand, a luxury all-suite, non-gaming hotel located adjacent to the main resort.