Emeril’s Fifth Annual Carnivale Du Vin: A Starchef Superfest
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2009
Emeril Lagasse’s fifth annual Carnivale du Vin brought the charity celebration of food and wine (benefiting his post-Katrina New Orleans-based Foundation for Children) back to Las Vegas, where it was first held, and fittingly so. With four outlets here, Vegas has been a second home of sorts for Emeril, and arguably no city better supports the solar system of star chefs. No less than fifteen of the 21 chefs (actually 24 + restauranteur Drew Nieporent) have Vegas venues, and those that don’t merely beg the question “why not you too?”--particularly Sam Choy and Norman Van Aken, who could really add to the scene here. But I digress.
Without taking away from the evening’s sit-down auction (which raised $1.9 million I’m told, impressive in this economy), food and wine was certainly the center, presented at simple stations pairing each chef’s NoLa-inspired selection with a fine wine. Intriguingly, some of the chefs that might be considered lesser lights in this company, actually shone more brightly.
Kim Canteenwalla (whose Society just got tapped by Esquire as one of the year’s best new restaurants) offered tiny but elegant Nantucket Bay scallops on the half shell with bits of pancetta and a light Creole mustard vinagrette. Venetian/Palazzo’s Executive Chef of catering and room service Olivier Dubreil may not have a restaurant per se but he certainly know how to shine in this environment--his bites of crispy pork belly with fingerling potatoes under chervil emulsion were outstanding (Clearly there’s a reason he was recently named a Master Chef of France. I wish I could enjoy his food more often). A perennial local power, Valentino’s Luciano Pellegrini presented proscuitto-stuffed handmade bucatini pasta with petite sautéed pioppini mushrooms under creamy crescenza fondue (Notice how he kind of ignored the theme? Do you care? Didn’t think so). And Kerry Simon’s team served shrimp and grits, at once a simple selection and yet one of the most pretty presentations—certainly not hurt by being paired with Williams-Selyem’s special Carnivale du Vin cuvee (one of the most popular reds throughout the night)
Of the bigger names, Hawaii’s Sam Choy served a very satisfying tuna-salmon poketini: chopped sashimi in a martini glass over seasoned sushi rice, good enough to go back for seconds (hm, again, not a bit Cajun). Daniel Boulud certainly knew how to distinguish himself, serving bold boudin noir as well as an unannounced rich bisque. Norman Van Aken brought the funk with his slyly complex Louisiana Crawfish soup. Michael Mina offered excellent ruby red shrimp on toast (“po’ boy?” okay, whatever). And Charlie Palmer brought satisfying short ribs with seasonal pumpkin puree—though pretty much anything would pair well with Caymus’ ’06 Special Selection, equal parts fruit and earth.
From Chef Lagasse’s selections, his tequila and lime marinated fish tacos, paired with a Cabo Wabo margarita were a street-savvy standout. Batali erected a showy salumi scaffold over his station, hanging the housemade wares of his local Exec Chef Zach Allen, which were tasty treats--though the mini-muffalettas were served on dry bread to my taste. And while not unpleasant, certainly among the most underwhelming was Wolfgang Puck’s Kobe steak slices and braised macaraoni & cheese. Why he chose to highlight his less innovative Vegas outlets Postrio and Cut over the far more creative Spago and newly revamped Lupo to this $1000-a-plate crowd is anyone’s guess.
During the auction, an elegant selection of cheeses were offered along with excellent Bissinger chocolates at the tables. After a climactic set by the Neville Brothers (highlighted by Emeril jamming on congas), an intimate afterparty upstairs at Table 10 with a pleasant Cajun buffet ended the night nicely. Anyone who avoided a food coma afterward should either be applauded, or pitied.