Eating Las Vegas

John Curtas is …

The Best FAM Tour…..ever!

Those in the tourist and retail business, which means half of Las Vegas, know what a FAM tour is. The acronym is for familiarization tour, a tour given to journalists, tour guides, and anyone else a business or organization thinks might spread the word about them after getting a little RF&B (room, food and beverage), and a quick (or not so quick) tour of the premises being promoted. They were unheard of in the restaurants of Las Vegas as little as five years ago, but with the explosion of properties (and competition), every writer, blogger, columnist and wannabe, from Toledo to Tokyo, gets (or angles to get) a free ride to Vegas, if a hotel thinks they might write something positive about the property.

Just as with casino comps, what started straightforward and simple: i.e. you gamble a certain amount, we’ll give you something back, has mushroomed into a bureaucratized sub-culture, with its own set of rules and strict protocols. Vegas being Vegas, half the free lance writers in the world now seek to get a free ride here, in exchange for an article or shout out somewhere. It must drive the p.r. folks in the hotels crazy trying to figure out who’s legitimate and who’s not….but such wasn’t a concern of the Wynn Hotel and Casino during Bon Appetit’s Uncork’d event that concluded on Sunday.

That’s because they picked the creme de la creme of food journalists-all of whom were in town for the aforementioned foodie festival, for THE BEST FAM TOUR EVER!-guided by Wynn Prez Andrew Pascal-of the inner workings of the food and beverage departments at Wynn. Everyone from Bon Appetit Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild, to the James Beard Foundation’s Mitchell Davis, to Dorie Greenspan and EaterLA’s Lesley Balla, gathered Saturday morning at the Wynn for an underground tour of everthing from the chocolate shop (headed by uber-pastry chef Fredrick Robert) to Paul Bartolotta’s fish tanks. Alan Richman was the only notable no-show, preferring (no doubt) to nurse his food coma in the comfort of his palatial suite at Caesars to a tasting of Boris Villatte’s incredible breads and baked goods.

For this we can forgive GQ’s restaurant critic, although his disturbing lapse in taste in voting (at the Masters v. Rookies cooking competition) for Rick (Fishboy) Moonen’s lobster salad (a f*cking salad for chrissakes!) over the finely tuned surf and turf created by Circo‘s Vincenzo Scarmiglia (with the able assistance of Michael Mina‘s Anthony Amoroso and yours truly), has been much harder to swallow.

A few words with the Chef of the (20th) Century-Joel Robuchon

There are five Michelin 3-Star restaurants in America. Joel Robuchon in the MGM Grand Hotel is one of them. Unlike many of his colleagues, JR is in his restaurant and at the stoves just about every third month in Las Vegas. We sat down (after begging off 16 courses and settling for a 12 course meal there recently) to ask The Chef of the 20th Century (as proclaimed by Gault-Millau in 1996), about his cuisine and restaurants in the era of the restaurant/food blogger.

Click here to hear my review of Joel Robuchon on KNPR.

Click here to read my review of Joel Robuchon for John Mariani.

JC: What is your opinion of food/restaurant bloggers and the impact they have on the dining-out public?

JR: They can be helpful and they can be dangerous. Dangerous because anyone can write anything, even if they have no training or experience and don’t make any sense. Genuine gastronomic critics bring a lot of experience to the table and you must respect that, but too often the internet can be used as a revenge tool by people who have something against the chef or the restaurant. But the public doesn’t know when a “review” is being used as a way to ambush a restaurant. Too many restaurant “critics” these days are like me when I’m criticizing a soccer coach; I might have my opinion, but I don’t know that much.

JC: How would you advise someone to get a proper gourmet education in this era of very expensive restaurants (like his) and various cooking/restaurant styles?

JR: You must go out a lot. Try different concepts. Form a fine dining club. Try get a true understanding of what is good and bad cooking. Follow a gastronomic critic whose tastes you understand and learn from them. Unfortunately, people don’t take the time these days to become a true gourmand.

JC: What advice would you give a young chef (or a young restaurant customer) about what to strive for in good cooking and good eating?

JR: Young people/children have an inherent honesty and respect for what is good in food. But as they get older, from 18-35 yrs. old, they tend to over think things…which is the most dangerous thing you can do as a chef. Young chefs try too hard to impress and constantly want their food to be exciting, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. Too often they get lost in the method and end up overcomplicating things. Doing a simple thing well and perfectly, is what great cooking is all about.

JC: Name me a restaurant that I’ve never heard of that I absolutely must go to?

JR: Restaurante Nou Manolin in Alicante, Spain, in Valencia. A tapas/small plates/seafood restaurant with amazing Mediterranean seafood and langoustines….

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