Top Chef

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 32nd annual Chefs’ Food Fest takes place on Thursday, June 6 (5:30 p.m.) in the Aquarius Pavilion within the Aquarius Casino Resort. There will be 12 participants including resorts, area restaurants, and beverage and spirits companies.
Live entertainment will be performed by popular area musician Leonard Interior, who sings and plays guitar.
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, 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 on a television screen. And while not everyone is a master of the culinary arts, 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’s company.
The format of the Chefs’ Food Fest sees casino chefs and food and beverage departments, often 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 price of admission.
For the third year in a row, a “not-so-secret ingredient” (passion fruit) will be the common denominator between the participants, meaning menus will feature them in some fashion as part of the overall “Flavors of the Islands” theme this year.
Passion fruit must be used in at least one dish or drink and the concoction that best uses the ingredient will win the “Best Use of the Secret Ingredient” trophy.
“Two years ago we added a theme ‘Flavors of the Desert,’ with the prickly pear as the secret ingredient and last year, it was ‘Flavors of the Deep South and that secret ingredient was the sweet potato,” said Jackie Mazzeo, Laughlin Chamber executive director. “So we added the ‘Best Use of the Secret Ingredient’ award 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.”
There are no rules as far as theme, or food and drink creations are concerned. Chefs like to pull out all the stops without any limitations and that portion of the event hasn’t changed. The secret ingredient challenge just adds another dimension.
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.

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 featuring “staycations” from area resorts, a variety of tours, a Big Bear getaway, and much more, held at the 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 translates to between $15,000 and $25,000 every year.
“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,” Mazzeo said. “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, any 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, a large pink shrimp, Rosie the Riveter, 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 that people may never have thought of before; culinary 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. All centerpieces will be made with fruit, in keeping with the island theme. One person from each table will win the centerpiece.
The opening ceremony includes a salute to “God and Country,” with a “Missing Man” presentation by Richard Springston of American Legion Post 60, and an invocation by Father Charlie Urnick of St. John the Baptist Church.


CHEFS’ FOOD FEST

The Aquarius Pavilion

Thursday, June 6 (5:30 p.m.)

Event sold out