By Bobbie Katz Posted May 13, 2010, 4:07 PM EDT
Every year, epicureans flock to the Vegas Uncork’d culinary extravaganza presented by Bon Appetit, where they get a chance to not only satisfy their palates with food and wines but also to rub elbows with some of the world’s most celebrated chefs and expert sommeliers. This year’s larger-than-ever festival—including intimate dinners, luncheons, tastings, cooking demonstrations, and other interactive culinary experiences—drew more than 5,000 ticketed guests to 30 events held at six different Las Vegas casinos over four days, May 6 through 9.
More than 2,300 guests gathered at Caesars Palace’s five-acre Garden of the Gods eight-pool complex with idyllic gardens for Bon Appetit’s signature ultimate culinary event, the grand tasting. This year’s attendance was a dramatic increase over last year’s 1,600 and more than doubled the inaugural tasting four years ago.
Among the more than 150 restaurants, vintners, and distillers that provided samplings of fine cuisine, wine, and spirits were a record-breaking 70 chefs from around the world, including Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Hubert Keller, Bradley Ogden, Guy Savoy, Steve Martarano, and Francois Payard.
“Vegas Uncork’d grows every year,“ said the event's executive director, Rob O’Keefe. “This year, we added a new partner, the Venetian/Palazzo. Each year, we expand our events overall. For example, we do a master series dinner at Caesars Palace with Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, Bradley Ogden, Restaurant Guy Savoy, and Rao’s. This year, we added a master series lunch with Valentino’s, Pinot Brasserie, and Cut. We also created a unique 'Better by the Bay' event, dinner at Mandalay Bay Beach on the sand with Alain Ducasse and Charlie Palmer. And we did a cooking demonstration at MGM Grand with Joel Robuchon.”
For the third year, Travelocity was a sponsor, and Infiniti and Samsung came on board for the first time. According to O’Keefe, the partnership with Travelocity made sense because Las Vegas is an important destination for the travel company and people travel to attend Uncork’d. That includes the 100 journalists covering the event, some from places like Asia and France. “From the standpoint of Bon Appetit, Las Vegas is irresistibly compelling,” said O’Keefe. “We’re made for each other. Bon Appetit is the first culinary magazine to really get Vegas and where it’s going. It’s never easy getting sponsors. And we’re very selective because our event is so unique.”
Because there are so many events, from intimate 14-person dinners to large-scale happenings like the grand tasting, with three to four going on at one time, planning Vegas Uncork’d is “complicated,” according to O’Keefe. “There are two teams, one in Las Vegas and one in New York, the magazine’s home base. Planning is year-round, with the groundwork for 2011 being laid before Vegas Uncork’d 2010 actually took place.”
“We have a true partnership with the casinos hosting the various events,” said O’Keefe. “They are quite good at doing things and we work closely with them. We have volunteers who also help at the event and a charity partner, Three Square Food Bank. The PR component is equally massive. This event is really about the chefs and intimate access. We focus on creating connectivity between chefs and guests. Guests feel that they are in the center of the experience and not lost in the crowd.”