Wednesday 14 May, 2014

What Happens When Giada DeLaurentiis and Bobby Flay Cook Together?

Chefs Bobby Flay, right, and Giada De Laurentis, center, and Bob App´tit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport, left, speak to the crowd at Caesars Palace during Vegas Uncork'd in Las Vegas on Thursday, May 8, 2014.(Photo by Isaac Brekken for Vegas Uncork'd by bon app´tit)

If you've ever wondered whether Celebrity Chefs hang out together off-screen and outside their restaurants, the answer, surprisingly enough, is Yes, they do.

At least if they are Giada DeLaurentiis and Bobby Flay, as Giada told me the morning after I attended this dinner she and Flay collaborated on as part of Bon Appetit's Vegas Uncork'd 2014 (disclosure: I am a frequent freelance contributor to BonAppetit.com). So, to answer my question, Giada said that she and Flay have cooked together before, but only on camera or for friends in the Hamptons, where they both own homes (don't judge: you would if you could, too). Never in a restaurant for 100+ people.

So "When Stars Align: Master Series Dinner" was one of the more significant events of Vegas Uncork'd and I'm happy to say it exceeded expectations--at least mine. Flay's Mesa Grill dinners are always one of the most popular Uncork'd events, so he certainly didn't need to bring in the assistance, but for Giada (and more importantly, Caesars Entertainment, backers of both the chefs' restaurants) it was a chance to present her food to a very eager Vegas audience.

There seems to be a great deal of anticipation but also skepticism about DeLaurentiis' restaurant (set to open in 3 weeks), the first for the TV chef and cookbook author. In fact, the skepticism seems oddly outsized in comparison to other celebrity chef venues in Vegas, despite the fact that DeLaurentiis clearly has much more at stake with her first restaurant than others with multiple ones, and the fact that anyone who bothers to ask her will get an earful of detail about anything from the cantilevering windows to the focaccia recipe. But I digress.

To match Giada's food, Flay called on recipes from his new Mediterranean restaurant Gato rather than Mesa Grill's Southwest flavors, and the meeting worked so well that diners (including myself) had a hard time being sure whose dishes were whos. After confirming, here's the full menu accredited, and with my humble opinions:

Primi:

* Eggplant, Manchego Cheese, Balsamico salad (Flay): Originally served at Flay's former Bolo restaurant, a deceptively simple salad full of flavor and texture.
* Crostino with Tomato & Strawberry Jam, Feta Cheese and Mint (DeLaurentiis): Meh. A little sweet, a little dull, honestly. Seemed better suited for a picnic.
Pasta:
* Pea Pesto Agnolotti with Prosecco (DeLaurentiis): Excellent pasta bursting with Spring energy. Paired with Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina, which balanced the dish's richness well.
* Farrotto with morels, lima beans (DeLaurentiis): Giada added this dish off-menu, essentially a risotto made with rich, comforting farro instead of rice. It was really the standout dish of the dinner: warm, comforting, earthy and seductive.
Secondi:
* Steamed East Coast Halibut, Sicilian Green Olives, Mint, Anchovies, Fennel-Saffron Broth, Cous Cous (Flay): Despite the long, slightly pretentious dish naming, this was basically a piece of very simple, clean, meaty fish atop a rich, complex sauce. Enjoyable, though one could say it lacked subtlety. Paired with Morgadio Albarino, Rias Baixas, a blessedly clean, high acid white.
* Stuffed Lamb Chops with Walnut Gremolata, Lemon Smashed Fried Potatoes (DeLaurentiis): The chops themselves were just okay, crusted with the gremolata (granted it isn't easy to cook and serve lamb to 100+ people at once); the "stuffed" part, something like a spinach timbale, served alongside was more interesting, and the potatoes, served family-style were a decadent crowd-pleaser. Served with Red Car Pinot Noir--nice enough but I might have been happier with a Barbera.
Dolce:
* Espresso Bread Pudding, Mascarpone Crema, Bittersweet Cocoa (Flay): for lack of a less hackneyed term, this was basically a "deconstructed," slightly Americanized tiramisu that was, well... fantastic. Soft, creamy, just sweet enough and impossible to deny, despite its size. Paired with a smooth Amaro made by Santa Barbara's esteemed winemaker Doug Margerum.
* Lemon Ricotta Cookies (DeLaurentiis): Packaged to take away, these have a cakey consistency like half-moon cookies with a very tart, very sweet glaze. A bit much for me, but probably Godlike for the cupcake crowd.
The two chefs' dishes worked surprisingly well together, and if it comes across that Giada's dishes were less impressive, that's only in direct analysis. Her pastas were the highlights of the meal and it's clear that she knows how to balance familiarity and
originality in the way that all sucessful restauranteurs do. The proof will be in the (rest of) the pudding, of course.

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