Letters of the Month – The Unimpressiveness of Vegas Uncork’d

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ELV note: For the first time in six years, yours truly did not attend a single event at Vegas Uncork’d. In this past half-decade, we have gone from being both a participant and reporter at the event to one whose excitement about it ranks somewhere between our boredom over the interminable NBA playoffs and our disgust about whatever stupid country music award show is in town this week. This makes ELV sad — both for the event and himself — as there was a time he when he felt these four days in May would be the defining event in the history of the Las Vegas dining revolution. Alas, like Camelot, it was a fleeting aspiration that was not meant to be.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, of course, but the real fault lies with the petty, internecine casino politics that have always plagued our community. Instead of the LVCVA using its muscle to force the hotels to play nicely together to celebrate our entire gastronomic scene (as it did for the first five years), it basically sold the event to Bon Appetit magazine a couple of years ago. and now let’s a bunch of p.r. types from New York dictate how they want to use our town to benefit their magazine. Like any good carpetbagger, Bon App doesn’t give two shits about the place its looting. All it cares about is creating revenue for its publisher. That’s why ticket prices (and the pay-to-play fees charged the restaurants and hotels) have gone up, and why such epicurean anchors as Wynn/Encore and Venetian/Palazzo have said: “Include us out!”

We touched upon some of these issues in an article we wrote for Vegas Inc. almost two years ago. If anything, things have gotten worse. Since our local titans of tourism don’t see the value of our collective food scene, and think of our world-class restaurants as nothing more than stores in a mall, there’s nothing else to do but watch this event devolve…out of apathy, complacency and ignorance.

And if Vegas Uncork’d wants to keep pretending it is a world class epicurean affair (on par with the South Beach, Pebble Beach and Aspen food and wine festivals), then we will leave them to their delusions.

For two more reports from two (former) avid fans, we submit for your approval our Letters of the Month (written in response to our own Mitchell Wilburn’s underwhelming experience):

Epicurean Adventurer, Official Friend of ELV and Gallivanting Gourmet David Ross writes:

I’ve had a growing malaise about Uncork’d in recent times so I took a much-needed sabbatical this year. As a veteran of the affair from the start, I’ve seen Uncork’d slide from the glory days where we celebrated what makes Las Vegas a glorious city for dining into a narrow feeding trough that is not much different than some of the other food classics feted around America.

Last year, at the final event I attended, I pulled the short straw. Billed as “Mother’s Day Brunch with Charlie Palmer” at Aureole, two things were strikingly missing. Caviar, apparently the mystery act at Uncork’d again this year, (as noted above), was absent at the scrambled egg station. Even more striking was the fact the diners didn’t ask for it, even though it was noted on the dainty menu card. I did ask and forthwith came jar after jar of the stuff. Good stuff from some ancient fish somewhere.

Yet the most notable absentee at brunch with Charlie Palmer was Charlie Palmer. When I sent a post Uncork’d note to the executors of the Uncork’d estate, I received nary a response. An indication, I suppose, that they didn’t care what this poor sap had to say, even though I’d poured in a sum equaling the cost of a moderate home over the course of my Uncork’d relationship.

Gone are the glory days when we could sit and chat with a notable Food Writer, say Alan Richman and have him sign a copy of his latest tome about the craft of food writing. Gone are the events where we discussed the food culture of Las Vegas and interacted with noted local scribes with names like John, Max and Al. Gone are the discussions with Chefs about how they craft a local, seasonal cuisine in a desert oasis. Gone are the tours of the vast kitchens, wine cellars and seafood shrine that is the house of Wynn.

One hopes that Uncork’d will have an epiphany and realize that the success of the event isn’t solely dependent on a man who liberally uses the F word and throws pots at hapless cooks. Las Vegas deserves more.

Jay chimes in with a report from this year’s trenches:

I posted my thoughts and observations, mainly stemming from the Bellagio Block Party, here:

It strikes me that there are fewer and fewer participating chefs every year, not to mention entire resorts that aren’t represented. And the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority doesn’t want star chefs from out of town. No wonder the Grand Tasting was only $225 this year. And my manager told me that Bon Appetit charges way too much for participants, so expect fewer next year.

I want Vegas Uncork’d to be successful, but like David Ross, there’s less and less that’s grabbing me each year. It’s the same names that I’ve (mostly) seen already. I’m more interested in the Lucky Rice Night Market, Life Is Beautiful, and other events that are bringing in fresh blood. VU is getting upstaged more and more.

Hey, any food writers reading this — do some investigating! I think there’s a real story here.

ELV final note: Well said by both writers. If you pay attention to these things, you will notice that there was almost zero local buzz about the event this year. The R-J ignores it entirely (no surprise there), but our plethora of other food scribes gave a colossal “meh” to an event that should be a week-long celebration of all the wonderful things that have happened here over the past twenty years. A pity, but more than just a pity, a shame…on our hotels and tourist authorities.

9 thoughts on “Letters of the Month – The Unimpressiveness of Vegas Uncork’d

  1. Sad…and all along I thought it was just me. I first went in 2008 and had a great time. 2009 was also fun, but by 2010 I had had enough. It seemed that more and more people were attending to get less and less. I thought that perhaps I was being unfair, and should give it another shot in 2014…maybe not.

  2. That said, there’s something to be said about events that are held in the chefs’ own restaurants (something you won’t find in Aspen or South Beach), ore something like the Beer Garden where the hosting chefs can come up with a creative theme. No doubt there is some fun and great food to still be had at Uncork’d. But as I said, the problem is not with what it is but what it isn’t.

  3. You all sound like the kids who stopped listening to alternative rock once Pearl Jam made it big.
    “this scene is done, sold out…”
    get over yourselves. the grand tasting has barely changed a bit since the beginning.
    Wynn wasn’t involved? He was probably busy dressing down his entire hotel staff and threatening to fire anyone who openly votes democrat. Or maybe he was opening another crappy restaurant or steak house.

    Too many people at the cool table so it’s not cool anymore…

  4. Nobody will ever accuse me of being cool, sir. I’m saying right now that I probably will attend an event next year, maybe even the Grand Tasting if I can’t find another that interests me. I just want VU to be successful and on a par with Aspen and South Beach. I’m sure it still is the former, but one would be hard-pressed to compare it to the latter. Let me know when Mario Batali and Paul Bartolotta have their big ICA rematch as part of next year’s festivities.

  5. These events are getting too political and the essence is lost in the shuffle and there are too many events of this type.

  6. John – we couldn’t agree more. We kept all of our operations out of the events this year, opting only to host an event in an effort to take advantage of the press opportunity to introduce our new 80,000 square foot monster at MGM. And now we are done. Until the event turns around and becomes more focused, less chaotic, and seemingly random, we won’t become part of the noise. BA should take a hint from the organizers of the Pebble Beach event, and then Vegas Uncork’d might stand a chance at surviving.

  7. We agree 1000 percent ! Having covered Pebble Beach over the years and Uncorked from its inception they are now worlds apart . At one time , we were proud that Uncork’d was a prestigious event worthy of world class attention. Sadly , it as fallen way bellow what it once was and could be. Pebble Beach , Aspen and South Beach are the cream of the crop and continueing to provide a world class product. Unfortunately , Las Vegas had its chance when it was handled by locals but now Uncorked is heading to its slow demise.

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