LAS VEGAS The massive food festival Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appétit wrapped its eighth run earlier in the month, having grown steadily since its inception. Its increase in scale and buzz over the years has paralleled Las Vegas’s own rise in reputation as a culinary destination, with a roster of famous chefs to rival many of the biggest food cities around the country. But the festival's success wasn’t an automatic byproduct of the city’s culinary stardom: it was the result of a carefully managed growth strategy built on hospitality partnerships, price point, access, innovation, and timing.
In order to manage and scale the festival, Bon Appétit works hand in hand with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, as well as partner hotels including Aria, Bellagio, Caesars, MGM Grand, and the Venetian this year. Part of the approach, said the magazine’s executive director of PR and events, Frederika Brookfield, is to make the festival affordable and accessible enough for a big section of the food-festival-going market. “One strategy is to deliver consumers an over-the-top experience at a value that everyone can afford,” she said. “We want to deliver a luxurious experience to everyone at every price point.” Michael Mina's pig roast, for instance, cost $125. And a general admission ticket to the large-scale grand tasting, with 50 chefs and 100 wines and spirits from around the world, was $225.
Beyond that, she said, the event owes part of its success to its ability to court relevant chefs—and then allow attendees access to them. “Access to the chefs is integral to the success of Vegas Uncork'd by Bon Appétit. Keeping the festival as relevant and on-trend with the food world is critical as consumers are looking for innovative tasting menus, things they haven't seen in their hometowns. Vegas is an exciting place and it's important to make sure we wow the consumers.”
This year, the program, which offered a total of 34 events during its May 8 to 11 run, added two master series dinners. The festival kicked off in dramatic fashion with Daniel Boulud sabering a bottle of Mionetto Prosecco at the Venetian surrounded by other notable chefs such as Mary Sue Milliken, Guy Savoy, Julian Serrano, Michael Mina, Roy Ellamar, and Shawn McClain. Newcomers to the scene included the likes of Giada De Laurentiis and Buddy Valastro, and some events like Joël Robuchon's Cooking & Wine Demo at MGM Grand sold out within the first 90 minutes of tickets going on sale. The centerpiece grand tasting alone drew 2,500 guests to Caesars.
Brookfield said the matter of the festival’s timing is an important factor, too: The event is held each year over Mother’s Day weekend, which “has created an emotional connection with consumers who want to celebrate their loved ones and book their vacations accordingly.” The festival draws many returning visitors each year, which Brookfield says distinguishes it and “adds to the intimacy of the weekend”—not to mention it means those people know to bookmark the dates and commit early.
What Uncork’d also offers is, well, Las Vegas itself, with events set against the glittering backdrop of the Las Vegas Strip. “It seems like Las Vegas is adding another Michelin-starred chef every minute,” Brookfield said. ”Las Vegas is the ultimate food destination and has really amazing food from every corner of the globe. You can purchase a ticket to Masa's sushi rolling demo one day then learn about wines from Sicily the next. Then hit the grand tasting to really eat your way around the world.”
She said the mag is invested in this festival because it's where food and culture intersect—a defining tenet of the Bon Appétit brand. And it provides the editors a chance to get out in the field and speak to the audience, spend time with international chefs, and discover new trends.
As for the future, Brookfield said there’s more growth in store—though no plans to simply repeat a proven formula. “Every year, the festival grows as we add more resort partners to participate and more chefs and more events. This attracts more consumers to the various events, but at the same time, we never want to offer the same thing twice to repeated visitors. There will always be the classic grand tasting and master series dinners at Caesars, but expect a new twist every year to keep it fresh.”