Chefs Food Fest

The Chefs’ Food Fest, sponsored by the Laughlin Chamber of Commerce, is one of the most anticipated events on the Laughlin calendar—a virtual feast for both the eyes and the palate. Without any particular overall event theme, the gloves are always off when it comes to food and its presentation.
Quickly approaching, this year’s 30th Annual Chefs Food Fest takes place on Thurs, June 8 (5:30 p.m.) in the Aquarius Pavilion within the Aquarius Casino Resort.
Why all the hot and bother over this event? The same reasons are at work here that make the food networks so popular and people like Giada Laurentis, Guy Fieri and Paul Hollywood celebrities. Food is a unifier. We all consume it and most of us enjoy the heck out of it. And the format of the Chefs Food Fest sees casino chefs and food and beverage departments, along with some local restaurants and spirit distributors, go all out to create food and beverage dishes and displays that are all about the wow factor. Thus, when you get the best of the best going about the business of elevating food into an “event,” well, you have the event of the year.
While the event has evolved into a friendly competition among the participants to see who can take home the traveling trophies of “Best Food” and “Best Creative-Based Design,” the real winners are the public who get to taste all of these creations for the single price of admission.
This year features a new wrinkle called “Flavors of the Desert” where all the chefs are to participate in a “secret ingredient contest,” using prickly pear. So imaginations will be in overdrive, possibly taking the competition to an even higher level.

The cause…
Another winner is the River Fund, Inc, a local not-for-profit organization that helps with local causes. Part of the monies raised by the event, including those garnered via a live auction held at evening’s close, go to help with emergency service referrals, special cases of displaced homeless families, as well as regional disaster relief for the area, which translated to between $15,000 and  $20,000 every year.

The event itself…
The creativity of the chefs and their staffs is one of the main attractions of the Chefs Food Fest. You never know what they will present in the way of dishes, beverages and displays. Some take the wow factor very seriously by going big and loud with clever themes and ice sculptures that translate down to matching drinks and dishes in keeping within those themes. Sometimes that also includes costumed characters such as mermaids, pirates and last year’s enchanted forest creatures.
The first Chefs Food Fest held 30 years ago was an October event with the overall theme being harvest time. This resulted in a lot of carved pumpkins and fall food items. A few years ago, the Laughlin Chamber moved the event to the summer to allow those visiting the river for fun and play a chance to experience the creatively crazy culinary side of Laughlin. That means there was no one theme, which opened the creative window to allow each participant to explore its own theme—and thus, a more enjoyable event was created all the way around.
Each entrant guards their plans with utmost secrecy until the final reveal (usually minutes before the doors open to the public)—which is difficult to do considering teams begin plans for the next food fest the day after the current one ends.
If past Chef’s Food Fests are any indication, the themes and creative dishes know no bounds. There have been sexy James Bond themes; mermaids sculpted from cream cheese; shipwrecks and treasure chests carved from ice; ice sculptures that were also beer taps; chocolate as the unifying ingredient in everything from barbecue sauce to bacon drizzled with it and desserts covered in it; comfort foods like chicken pot pie; the ultimate ice cream bar with a choice of every topping imaginable; custom cupcakes with just as many toppings people may never have thought of before; trips to the New Orleans French Quarter for Cajun delights or a Texas cattle ranch for filet mignon brochettes…or to Memphis for BBQ rib sliders, and mini steaks on the grills of action cooking stations.
“The Chefs Food Fest is a wonderful event for several reasons,” states Sean Hammond, Aquarius general manager. “It gives our guests a chance to experience the incredible creativity of our chefs, and it is a chance for the public to experiment with food in ways they normally might not. The fact the whole event raises funds for a charity that impacts the lives of so many is simply icing on the cake.”
Because the event returns to the Aquarius again this year, Tim Abrams, Aquarius vice president of food and beverage will have a “home-field” advantage when it comes to transporting his famous ice sculptures. Most area foodies know Abrams has a way with blocks of ice, a chain saw and a blow torch as evidenced by his past displays of mermaids and underwater scenes—even a full bar out of one block of ice…and then there are the lights illuminating his creations.
But Abrams faces tough competition from the other properties and participants. He’s not the only one who continues to experiment with ice.
Harrah’s Laughlin has set the bar for booth design the past few years thanks to over-the-top carved ice bars also with lights, and displays that have included a two story “nightclub” look with beautiful girls serving drinks on an upper deck over the Mardi Gras theme lower food display area. Each year, the booth design of Harrah’s food and beverage team is highly anticipated as is the way they incorporate the award winning dishes to reflect the theme.  Sometimes they have focused on selections from Guy Fieri’s El Burro Borracho, like the popular trash can nachos and their light, addicting churros.
Last year the Avi Resort & Casino created an enchanted fairy garden with cakes fashioned into tree stumps and fallen logs, and beverages that looked like tree sap; while the Pioneer Hotel & Gambling Hall opted for the country fair theme with jars of homemade jam and displays of plump fresh fruit.
All of the casinos create displays brimming with innovative food combinations.
The event works for the chefs and their food and beverage departments because it creates great teamwork and establishes pride. There is an abundance of attention to detail—from having the exact number of red hot candies in every single shot glass to just the right size watermelon and pineapple slices in the fresh fruit margaritas.
There are also beverage and spirit distributors involved in the Chefs Food Fest, and this means there will be a few brews, spirits, creative cocktails and other beverages you can sample that may not be available on the market or are so new you probably haven’t heard of them.

How much…
Tickets are $75 each, or to reserve a table, call Michelle at 702-298-2214, or in person at the Laughlin Chamber of Commerce office at 1585 S. Casino Drive across from the north parking lot of the Riverside Resort or visit



Aquarius Pavilion

Thursday, June 8, 5:30 p.m. (See Showtimes for tickets)