Friday 31 January, 2014

Chefs To The Max: PHOTOS and DETAILS of a historic Vegas Chef Collaboration


On January 19th, an historic dinner was held in Las Vegas at Rx Boiler Room, raising approximately $275,000 for hospitalized food critic Max Jacobson. The$1000/plate  event was historic not only for the gesture but for the impressive array of talent gathered to prepare the meal for 100 guests.

While others reported on the night as a news event, few said much about the food itself. Because I felt that element deserved documentation as well, I asked my colleague Mitchell Wilburn, who was lucky enough to attend, to write some thoughts. Accompanying them are some shots documenting the action in the kitchen by another of my favorite collaborators, Sabin Orr, which he allowed me to edit from a rather large album. Wishing Mr. Jacobson a speedy recovery, so he can see for himself what he missed...

Mitchell writes:

In a show of charity that speaks to the impact of Max Jacobson, long time Las Vegas food critic, nationally renowned chefs and restaurateurs came together to raise money for the injured gourmet.  Put into critical condition and a medically induced coma after being struck with a car in December, Max was unconscious for Christmas, his own birthday, his anniversary, new years, and is just now slowly coming out of it.

His network of family and friends came together to offer emotional support, and the Las Vegas industry came together with Chefs to the Max, a series of benefit dinners and auctions to raise money in hopes of alleviating a great deal of the financial burden.

A menu fit for a king, everyone from local James Beard award winner Luciano Pellegrini to one of America's most recognizable Iron Chefs, Bobby Flay.

Course after course, it was the best of each chefs catalogue.  Border Grill’s Mary Sue Milken and Susan Feinger were doing plantain croquette with goat cheese and black bean filling for the hors d’oeuvre course, Aureole chef Vincent Pouessel made an amuse of chilled “boeuf a la ficelle” with horseradish pana cotta and perigord truffles, and the enigmatic Kim Canteenwalla had a scallop and prawn tasting (a ceviche on ice, in a baked potato gratin, and prawn “Provençale”.

Halfway through the night, there was a mini “throw down” course between Rick Moonen and Bobby Flay.  Cooking competition is no stranger to the Top Chef Masters and Iron Chef America stars, and the theme of this challenge is Kona Kampachi.  Moonen seared a loin with chili flake, then sliced and plated with ruby red grapefruit and a yuzu butter sauce.  Flay sliced into steaks, seared, and added a Korean red pepper-tangerine glaze, with pickled Brussels sprout relish and squab egg.  The clear winner of that course was, of course, the diner of two such amazing dishes.

The entrée course was the big bang of the night, most notably the dish by Chef Hubert Keller, which he named for the event, “Max’s Favorite: Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks Rossini Style.”  The braised cheeks, in a truffled jus reduction, were topped with seared foie gras, along side a triangle of sweet potato puree “cake”.  A lasting memory for all involved, and a dish fitting a gourmand like Max.

Chef Rick Moonen was the MC and the Founder of the Feast, who along with Al Mancini, have both been working exhaustively after the accident to make this event a reality.  In addition to the amazing menu and the trials of getting twenty-three superstar chefs in the same kitchen, they were able to pull together a very impressive array of auction items and vacation packages.  The live auction, officiated by Robin Leach, netted upwards of $175,000 for the fund, over half of which went to a single item.

This single item was donated between long-time philanthropist and Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada co-founder Larry Ruvo and restaurateur/chef of the landmark Napa destination The French Laundry, Thomas Keller.   This whopping sum was for a four-couple package getaway to Napa, in Larry Ruvo’s private jet, a tour of wineries in the picturesque countryside, and a personalized meal at The French Laundry by Chef Keller himself.  A once in a lifetime experience, and all to a charitable cause.   Southern Wine, and Mr. Ruvo himself, was instrumental in this event, as the wine pairings and cocktails matched the food in both quality and exclusivity.

Throughout the night, Max Jacobson’s childhood friends, siblings, and industry contemporaries shared stories about what makes Max the man he is.  Everything from speaking his first words before a year old, to taking the train to Boston at six, to traveling around Europe, Asia, and eventually courting a Nepalese shop girl named Setu who would someday become his loving wife.  His storied and colorful travels touched the hearts of all involved, and gave a glimpse into the man behind so many years of food journalism entertainment.

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