Thursday, October 29, 2009
My Oct. 8 column in the Weekly baffling over why Vegas was blowing its "Top Chef" moment by not doing viewing parties or creating Top Chef menus had a pretty cool impact. Chef Rick Moonen, who appeared in the Oct. 21 episode and was one of the Top Chef Masters contestants in the special mini-season this spring, held a viewing party at his Restaurant RM at Mandalay Bay. I didn't notice until it was too late my emailed invite, but I did receive a note from Rick prior to that telling me that he agreed completely with the column.
I also understand that the M Resort folks were pretty ticked off. That property took it on the chin the most in that column as they're the Top Chef host property in the show but they've done absolutely nothing to market that fact. I've since heard that contractually, they're not allowed.
OK, then. If so, the young property desperate for some national TV exposure made kind of a lame deal with Bravo. It's not a secret in the program that M was the host property and it's not giving away anything about what occurs in the show to invite tourists and locals to come to a viewing party every Thursday. There is no logical reason for Bravo to oppose that.
It also doesn't seem that other resorts are bound to the same constraints. As previously mentioned, Moonen had his viewing party and, last night, Wynn Las Vegas hosted one at Bartolotta di Mare with namesake chef Paul Bartolotta, who was a guest judge. Plus, in a few weeks when Wynn chef Alex Stratta appears, they'll do it again. And the Wynn folks aren't playing coy about the fact that their chefs are in upcoming episodes, either.
While these are not quite a full-fledged, heavily hyped, open-to-the-public viewing events I imagined, it was a lot of fun and very enlightening to spend last night with Bartolotta, his relatives and business associates and some media figures around town in his private banquet room at the restaurant. This "mirror"...
...became a TV:
I Tweeted extensively during the gathering, although AT&T Wireless' coverage was so lousy that I had to run outside to send stuff during the commercial breaks. (The R-J's Norm Clarke, who uses a Blackberry, was able to Tweet away from his seat, the bastard.)
About 35 or 40 folks attended, including the Las Vegas Weekly online goddess Sarah Feldberg, whose piece on the event should be posted any day now. And there was plenty of interesting "Top Chef" scoop from Chef B. For one thing, he groaned loudly and declared "inedible" and "disgusting" the food for the challenge made by Robin Leventhal, the contestant constantly being bashed by the others. Watching himself eating whatever she made on the TV made him squirmy, in fact.
Bartolotta was in the show to judge the Quickfire challenge and eat at the later meal but not to judge the outcome, so he said he didn't know who would win or lose the week. I don't want to give it away, but he agreed with the decision to eliminate the loser who was not the aforementioned Robin. He said of Robin, "She adds drama to show."
This being party thrown at a restaurant for a chef appearing on a cooking show, it shouldn't be a surprise that there was food and that all of it was delicious. The most dramatic was this branzino (sea bass) baked under sea salt, anise, lemon peel, orange peel:
The most amusing food moment was that the waiters were handing out this...
...just as Top Chef star guest Natalie Portman (like me, a Syosset High School alum) telling the cheftestants she's a vegetarian and that their task is to make a meatless dish. Irony!
Not present was Steve Wynn who I caught leaving Bartolotta as I was arriving at about 9 p.m. He didn't seem to know that Chef B was about to have a TV star turn and a party to celebrate it and promised to return for it, but he never did.
Other local figures in attendance included KLAS-TV anchor Denise Valdez and reporter Jonathan Humbert (here with his wife):
The evening ended with a vanilla semifreddo with fig confit and red wine as well as this, a lemon olive oil cake topped by rosemary ice cream:
Bartolotta clearly was bitten by the TV bug. He's appeared often enough, but this adventure into Top Chef clearly had him dreaming of greater stardom. "I really think I could do a show of my own," he told me. It was unclear whether anything specific was in the works.
Oh, and one more thing. Bartolotta's restaurant phone began ringing with people asking for reservations as soon as the show started airing in the East.