Master Chefs

The Chefs Food Fest, sponsored by the Laughlin Chamber of Commerce, is all about blowing the doors off creativity, not just taking it for a spin around the block. This is when the gloves come off, the oven mitts come on and the beautiful aroma of so many flavors mingling together converge in one tasty spot for one tasty evening.
The Food Fest is one of the most anticipated events on the Laughlin calendar — a multi-layered feast for the senses — all for a good cause.
This year’s 31st annual Chefs Food Fest takes place on Thursday, June 7 (5:30 p.m.) in the Aquarius Pavilion within the Aquarius Casino Resort. There will be 15 participants including resorts, area restaurants, beverage and spirits companies and more.
Live entertainment will be performed by K-Brick, with his smooth and easy pop and jazz on saxophones, clarinet and flute.
Why all the excitement over this event? Many people have become serious “foodies” over the years watching chefs and bakers like Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsey, Giada Laurentis, Paul Hollywood, Guy Fieri, and others from all over the world become celebrities because of their innovative and masterful ways in the kitchen developing unique flavor combinations and food presentations that are just as much art as they are appetizers, main courses, breads and desserts. They have opened doors for home cooks who have gathered their own courage to try new things because first and foremost, it looks like fun.
The best way to see that kind of innovation and artistic expression is up close and personal instead of a television screen. And while not everyone can become a master of the culinary arts (and maybe they don’t even want to), they do like to taste, to expand, to experiment and to experience. Let’s face it, food is a common denominator. Food is the reason people often get together, and it is through food that people communicate and enjoy each other.
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. While the event has evolved into a friendly competition among the participants to see who can take home trophies for “Best Food,” “Best Dessert,” “Best Cocktail,” and “Best Creative Booth Design,” the real winners are the public who get to taste all of these creations for the single price of admission.
For the second year in a row, a “not-so-secret ingredient” (sweet potatoes) will be the common denominator between the participants, meaning menus will feature them in some fashion as part of the overall “Flavors of the Deep South” theme this year.
So while some of the traditional items people think about when they think about sweet potatoes probably will be featured prominently, imaginations will be in overdrive, possibly taking the competition to an even higher level.
“I attend an academy for chamber executives and in this program, they’re teaching me about keeping things current,” said Jackie Mazzeo, Laughlin Chamber executive director. “Well, the event is 31 years old and it needs spice in it. People who attend get more than just an eating event — although that’s what it is.
“Last year we added a theme ‘Flavors of the Desert,’ and this year, it’s ‘Flavors of the Deep South.’ Last year the prickly pear was the secret ingredient and we announced this year that the secret ingredient was the sweet potato. So we added an award that is “Best Use of the Secret Ingredient” and this is voted on by a secret judge. It will be announced at the same time as the other four awards and those are still decided by ballot.”
The event has a tradition of chefs doing their own thing and theme without any limits and Mazzeo explained that part hasn’t changed. The secret ingredient challenge just adds a little more dimension.
“The themed portion is only to ensure we have some spice in the room, that we focus on an area of the country through the secret ingredient,” she said. “All of the entrees or foods that a chef’s team presents does not have to be from the South, they can do anything they want to highlight their venues. But that one entry has to have sweet potato in it. They can still do what they normally did, which is to highlight their restaurants and their own menus, but we want them to be creative about that one item so the secret judge and the people can have a good time with it.”

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 $25,000 every year.
“I don’t know if I’m partial or not, because I’m on the Board of Directors for the River Fund, and that does sway me a lot about this event,” Mazzeo added.
“We who can, go and eat and are wowed and wooed by the talent and the donations of these chefs’ teams so that those less fortunate can benefit. That warms my heart. So that $75 ticket is going to help quite a lot of people in their struggles to pay their electric bills, get food in their children’s stomachs, and other things many of us take for granted. So we eat so others can eat and live — that part is my favorite and to watch the chefs. They’re so proud of what they do, they just glow and it is amazing.”

A little event history…
You never know what area chefs will present in the way of dishes, beverages and displays. Some take the “over-the-top” philosophy very seriously by going big and loud with clever menu items, 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, enchanted forest creatures and those from “Alice in Wonderland.”
There have been sexy James Bond themes; sculptures 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 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.
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 people can sample.
Every guest will be able to take home a commemorative food tray.

More new elements…
Streamlining the event has also been a theme this year. Mazzeo said the opening ceremony and the auction portion have been shortened considerably.
“The opening ceremony is going to be an invocation by Father Charlie, it’s going to be the playing of ‘Taps’ with a missing-man table, and an explanation of the sponsorship food trays and that’s it. Our three major sponsors are Dot Foods, Anderson Ford and Nevada Made Marijuana.”
For the second year, the number of tables has been downsized, to provide better access to the various booths, more room to maneuver in between tables and less wait time in lines.
“For this year the centerpieces, because it’s ‘Flavors of the Deep South,’ I went to thrift stores, primarily the Boys & Girls Clubs Thrift and Gift and bought containers — old punchbowls and vases and antique books, and silver and we bought the flowers, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds,” Mazzeo said. “Then on Wednesday night we’re having a centerpiece building party, where anybody can come and build centerpieces based on the creative inspiration we’re going to have there. Chuck is going to be there from Bullhead City Florist and he’s going to help us and let us know if our centerpiece is ugly or not. It’s all themed around the ‘Deep South,’ so it’s flowers and lots of peaches and apples and green tomatoes, and then the people who sit at the table during the Food Fest get to take that centerpiece home.
“Now what we purchased stays in the community and supports the community including the Boys & Girls Clubs with all of the repurposed products we incorporated. That old platter that you sent to the Boys & Girls Clubs, we are going to use as a centerpiece. The fresh flowers and fruits can be taken home and enjoyed by everyone at the table. It’s a way of not wasting money and ensuring it went back to the community.”

How much…
As of this writing, the event is sold out. Tickets are $75 each, if there are cancellations. For information, call Michelle at 702-298-2214.


CHEFS FOOD FEST

Aquarius Pavilion within the Aquarius

Thursday, June 7 (5:30 p.m.)

Event sold out