By Bobbie Katz Posted November 18, 2009, 5:48 PM EST
One step inside the Venetian ballroom on November 14 and it was apparent that chef Emeril Lagasse was bringing more to the table than just his cuisine. The first anniversary of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation’s Carnivale du Vin, which raises funds for children’s education in communities where his restaurants operate, was underway with a lineup of star chefs and prominent vintners contributing to 21 food and wine pairing stations.
More than 700 guests paid $1,000 a head for an evening of food, wine, live and silent auctions, and entertainment to benefit the foundation, which Lagasse started in his home city of New Orleans in 2002. Lagasse, who has four restaurants in Las Vegas, announced a new partnership with Three Square Food Bank to establish Kids Café—a program of Feeding America—in three Las Vegas-area pilot schools to bring nutritious after-school meals to students.
“There are so many different areas and departments connected with this evening—I started inviting the chefs for next year before this one even took place,” said the foundation's events manager, Antonia Keller, who worked on the yearlong project with executive director Kristin Shannon and coordinator Nicole Laan. The Venetian had more than 80 staff members working the event.
The evening kicked off with a red carpet, which saw the likes of Lagasse, Mario Batali (the 2009 Carnivale du Vin honoree), Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Trotter, Daniel Boulud, Michael Mina, Bradley Ogden, Kerry Simon, Charlie Palmer, Joachim Splichal, Joe Bastianich, Katrina Smirnoff, Sammy Hagar (who donated bottles of his Cabo Wabo tequila), the Neville Brothers, and Venetian president Rob Goldstein.
At 6 p.m. guests entered the ballroom where 21 tasting stations had been set up in four aisles along with a small stage at the far end of the room. Some of the dishes included tequila- and lime-marinated fish tacos with Cabo Wabo shrimp salsa (from Lagasse), Snake River Farms Kobe beef with house-made steak sauce (Puck), and shrimp and grits (Simon).
At 8:30 p.m., after walking around and tasting wine and food prepared before their eyes, guests entered an adjacent ballroom filled with round tables of 10 and a large stage with video screens on either side. The room, with blue hydrangea centerpieces on each table, was decorated in that shade to match featured artist George Rodrigue’s pop icon, Blue Dog. One of Rodrigue’s Blue Dog paintings graced the cover of the event catalog and another, done specifically for the event, was auctioned off for $110,000.
As people sat at their assigned tables, cheese and sweet and savory plates provided by the Venetian’s executive chef closed the food portion of the evening. There was a slight snag in the event planning since the auctioneer for the past four years, John Williams, had a death in his family the morning of the event and was unable to attend. In his absence, Kristin Shannon went on stage to explain the 14 lots up for auction and one of the vintners took over for Williams. The auction's unofficial tally reached $1.2 million. At 10 p.m., a performance by the Neville Brothers brought the evening to a New Orleans-style celebratory close.
A welcome reception the night before for the Krewe du Vin and sponsors took place at Lagasse’s Stadium in the Palazzo. The 12 chefs de cuisine from Lagasse’s restaurants across the country each prepared a tasting of their restaurant’s signature dishes.