Saturday, May 14, 2011

May Vegas 3: Chef Showdown

The Chef Showdown was actually my 3rd Uncork'd Event. On Thursday I attended the Locovore's Delight dinner with Bradley Ogden and then a party after that at Tom Collicchio's restaurant in the MGM Grand. The one memorable dish from Bradley was his halibut with morels in Meyer Lemon sauce. Exquisite. He also served some scallops, which didn't impress me, some fois and a lamb dish, neither particularly edible, as well as a delicious desert of strawberries in a boozy sauce. The highlight of my meal had to be the company, 3 couples from LA who were very entertaining and far more knowledgeable about food than me (I'm sure that's the case with most guests at Uncork'd). Tom's late party didn't seem to have anything I could eat, just sushi and steak tartare so I had a glass of champagne and left before the dueling grand pianos could induce deafness. The Chef Showdown, in a large educational space called Tuscany Kitchen at the Bellagio, was my first opportunity to actually learn something. The two young chefs, Akira Back of Yellowtale and Martin Heierling of Sensi, both surprisingly restaurants in the Bellagio, were tasked with producing one dish with scallops and the other with assorted mushroom. It could hardly be called a competition because the meals were already prepared for us, though we did get to watch the chefs at work in the kitchen part of the room and on big TVs throughout. Martin showed his fondness for southeast Asian food by adding tamarind to a seared sea scallop dish what also benefited from fermented rice flakes, ginger, lime, cilantro and compressed pineapple. A fantastic dish. Akira answered with a scallop pizza made from diver scallop carpaccio, Kewpie Mayonnaise and truffle oil on a grilled tortilla and the intriguing introduction of smoke from a new kitchen machine. That's what I learned from this event: get a smoke machine. Would also love Martin's recipe for that pineapple sauce. A very tasty Riesling accompanied the scallops, working very well with both pineapple and smoky scallops and pretty good by itself too. The mushroom course really contrasted the chefs. Akira stuck to just mushrooms. One part of his dish was an oyster mushroom dumpling. though its skin was rather tough the oyster mushrooms, braised in soy cream and mushroom broth and garnished with yuzu and cilantro, with some amazingly refreshing pickled mushrooms on the side. Delightful! Martin's mushroom dish was overwhelmed by the bacon wrapped rabbit loin. I would have enjoyed more of the Parisian gnocchi braised in mushroom stock, garnished with fava beans, peas and ramps. A red wine accompanied the mushrooms with its appropriately earthy terroir. The chefs also shared some interesting stories while they cooked. Akira told about using garlic that had been braised in milk 7 times. Someone asked him if he could tell if it was only 6 times. He could. That's why he's the chef and we're just there to eat.

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