Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 | 10:01 p.m.
2013 Culinary Clash
2013 Culinary Clash
TV and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse really kicked it up a notch on his whirlwind weekend Las Vegas visit with a round-the-clock schedule of events. He never guessed when he started judging 16 chefs competing in the second-annual — and outrageous — Culinary Clash at the Venetian and Palazzo that two of his own chefs would go head-to-head for the final smack down.
The Master Chef Challenge held at Doges Palace forecourt of the Venetian pushed the competing chefs to the limits with a mystery basket filled with food oddities, and then they had to present five meals to the judges within 20 minutes.
Some of the oddball items included the geoduck clam, a can of Irish beer, truffle peelings, hot peppers and even hotter pastes, orange cauliflower and a live, large angry lobster.
Emeril gathered with judges Susan Stapleton of Eater Vegas; Elizabeth Blau, restaurateur and owner of Honey Salt in Summerlin; John Caparella, president of the Venetian and Palazzo; Sebastien Silvestri, vice president of food and beverage at the Venetian and Palazzo; and yours truly as the MC to step in when Emeril recused himself or to break a tie.
Our thanks to contributing photographer David Tingey of Donoghue Photography and videographer Richard Corey for their coverage of the 10 hours of competition Friday and Saturday nights.
Eight chefs were KO’d in the first round, and it all came down to Emeril’s chefs, Tim Doolittle of Table 120 in Palazzo and Ronnie Rainwater of Delmonico’s in the Venetian. Along the way, they overcame culinary masterpieces and high standards set by Donna Wiley of Taqueria Canonita, John Um of Sushi Samba, Levi Hill of Aquaknox, Chaisith Crook of Tao, Joshua Bianchi from the Venetian and Stefan Peroutka from the Palazzo.
Ronnie and Tim faced off with a mystery basket that contained the largest and ugliest live Alaskan King crab I’ve ever seen, chorizo, fava beans and black garlic. They both unknowingly grabbed eggs from the rack of supplies and turned in breakfast dishes as a salute to New Orleans brunches: crab legs on spicy scrambled eggs and an even hotter crabs Benedict.
Emeril recused himself from judging. Tim was declared the winner and was presented with the Golden Toque award and a trip to Venice, Italy.
Tony Abou-Ganim’s four-bartender team from restaurants at the two resorts won the debut edition of the Masters of Mixology competition. He beat Francesco Lafranconi’s team, but less than 50 points separated them after five rounds of cocktail contests, original recipes and blind tastings hosted by author and mixologist Dale DeGroff.
Emeril, who has hosted more than 2,000 shows on the Food Network, has authored 18 bestselling cookbooks and is the chef proprietor of 13 restaurants. The star chef also welcomed NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana to his Lagasse’s Stadium at the Palazzo for lunch with 19-time rodeo world champion Trevor Brazile.
Immediately afterward, Emeril hosted the sixth annual Carnival of Cuisine at the Palazzo Pool. More than 1,500 guests tasted their way around 20 of the two hotels’ finest restaurants
In addition to another meet-and-greet that Emeril hosted in his Delmonico’s at the Venetian, he was presented with the Leadership Award at the Silver State Awards, where he presented the Visionary Award to “Iron Chef” winner Kerry Simon.
Emeril, who is currently judging Season 11 of Bravo’s “Top Chef” in New Orleans, summed up: “It was an extraordinary and incredible trip. The culinary standards set were extremely high. We’ve all said for a long time now that chefs in Las Vegas are some of the best in the world producing fabulous food. They certainly proved it again this time, and I honestly feel it gets better and better every time I visit.
“I never guessed, though, that I would watch two of my chefs go all the way through to the finals. Obviously, I couldn’t vote for just one of them because that would have meant the Judgment of Solomon and picking a favorite. That I just couldn’t do — impossibly difficult — so I bowed out, but I was thrilled that they both turned in almost identical dishes in a salute to New Orleans. They both deserved to win!”
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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With top accommodations, first-rate entertainment, high-end shopping and a slew of acclaimed chefs, the Palazzo has positioned itself as one of the most luxurious resorts on the Strip.
More than 3,000 all-suite rooms start at 740 square feet and are decorated in a modern, yet classic, Italian style. Each room features a sleeping area, with a king or two queens, and a sunken living room area with floor to ceiling windows.
A cathedral ceiling tops the Palazzo casino, while a second 80-foot dome brings natural light to the property's lobby. The 105,000 square foot casino features more than 2,000 slots and 80 table games but lacks the stale smell of cigarettes, as the property is LEED certified with smoking off limits in most of the Palazzo — including 50 percent of the casino floor.
Dining at the Palazzo is among the best of the Strip, starting with Wolfgang Puck's CUT. Chef Simon To serves up authentic Chinese cuisine at Zine, while Sushisamba combines Brazilian and Peruvian flavors with Japanese techniques. At LAVO, club-goers can dine on Mediterranean dishes before heading upstairs to the bath house-inspired nightclub.
In the spirit of Venice, The Venetian is a little piece of romantic Italy right here in Las Vegas. The Venetian is an "all-suite" hotel, with rooms accented with plush linens and Italian marble. The 4,027 suites are divided into two towers: The 36-story Venetian Tower that offers guests a taste of luxurious Las Vegas and the Venezia suites, which guarantee 12 floors of high-end elegance. The top five floors are the hotel's highest level of luxury with its private access, concierge lounge, upgraded features and even a dedicated staff.
The flagship of Venetian nightlife is TAO, an ultra-hip nightclub located inside of TAO Asian Bistro. V Bar is The Venetian's super smooth ultra lounge, made by the owners of New York City's club Lotus and Los Angeles' super swank Sunset Room.
The Venetian features 19 restaurants including Thomas Keller's award-winning French restaurant Bouchon, Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante, Aquaknox for fresh seafood and the 42,000 square foot TAO Asian Bistro. There's also the food court inside the Canal Shoppes for those looking for a quick bite.
Guests can float along The Grand Canal Shops in an authentic Italian gondola ride and pass stores like Burberry and Kenneth Cole along the way. And if you haven't caught a real celeb, on the street in Vegas, you can head over to Madame Tussauds to check out a wax version.