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Counter Intelligence: World Food Championships and Food & Wine All-Stars return to L.V. in the fall


Tuesday, June 25, 2013 | 10:37 p.m.

Two Greedy Italians Still Hungry

Hot off the grill!

Following last year’s successful debut, the World Food Championships are returning for its second-annual outing, but not on the Strip this time around. Last winter, events were at the Paris and Caesars Palace, but this year it will be Downtown at the two Fremont Street zones.

The Experience and the District will be the official host venues of the high-stakes food competition Nov. 7-10. It’s the Foodie Olympics! Nearly 500 competitors from more than 10 countries will seek fame and fortune in the Fremont Food Fight. Categories include barbecue, chili, burger, sandwich, recipe (with a pasta focus), dessert and the new Ultimate Bacon Experience.

Total prize money will be $300,000, with a tournament-style format culminating in the title of world champion after a WSOP Final Table-like contest with a panel of VIPs and culinary celebrities, including yours truly, in front of an audience.

Last year, chef Robert Butler from the Paris defeated six other category champions to win the inaugural event. “Being part of the two Fremont areas provides a perfect balance of glitz and glamour and true community spirit to make the event an exciting destination for tourists foodies and locals,” said Mike McCloud,WFC president.


They are supposed to be top-secret culinary moves in Las Vegas, but I can confirm that star chef Julian Serrano at Bellagio, while staying with his beautiful restaurant Picasso, will move up to open a new Italian tapas restaurant on the main casino floor. We know the venue he’s taking over, but we’ll keep that under our toque for the moment.

AIRPORT GOURMET: Celebrity chef and The Food Network’s “Chopped” judge Scott Conant (Scarpetta at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas) has been selected to provide seasonal gourmet fare and signature cocktails at the new American Express Centurian Lounge opening on Concourse D at McCarran International.

RESTAURANT MAKEOVERS: Has new Riviera executive Scott Meinki already reached out to a well-respected restaurant consultant here to overhaul the eateries with a new up-market approach she knows so well?

COMBO MARKET & BISTRO: Star chef Alain Ducasse (Mix at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay) is in early planning stages to open a chef’s table restaurant and French specialty foods market in Crystals at CityCenter.

TRANSFORMATION: A similar restaurant market project but with a different European theme is being discussed for the transformation of a large existing restaurant at a south end of the Strip hotel where the news is very much the buzz with chefs and restaurateurs alike.

PIZZA CHAMP: Eleven-time world pizza champion Tony Gemignani opens his Pizza Rock this summer as part of the Downtown 3rd neighborhood. The 185-seat restaurant will anchor at Ogden Avenue and 3rd Street alongside the Downtown Grand Hotel opening this fall on the former Lady Luck property. It will serve gourmet creations, artisan cocktails and imported beers and wines. The four pizza ovens will create Italian and American pizzas, including his pies that won World Pizza Cup challenges in Italy and The Food Network’s Gold Medal.

NEW TV SHOW: Every summer on my Italian vacation, I have lunch at one of the world’s most unique restaurants, Theatro di Sal in Florence. The Salt Theater serves lunch and dinner from an open-visible kitchen with chefs finishing and presenting their dishes onstage to the accompaniment of singers, harpists and other musicians. It’s legendary among European foodies, so much so that BBC’s “Two Greedy Italians Still Hungry” just filmed there, and now I hear that TV series is heading stateside. My annual trip is coming up in a week, and we’ve got a handful of top Las Vegas chefs writing guest columns while I’m away.

NEW MENU: Celebrity chef Angelo Sosa (Poppy Den in Tivoli Village) has introduced a summer menu of lighter cuisine and American classics with a modern Asian twist. His appetizers now include Asian lobster salad and crab cakes and entrees of grilled tuna and pork chops with spiced applesauce. Angelo has added a sake and sangria blend and beer floats to go with the yuzu panna cotta and chocolate and vanilla tiramisu served in the candle-lit gardens. “All inspired by my world travels,” Angelo told me.

ALL-STARS RETURN: The Fourth Annual Food & Wine All-Star Weekend is set to return Oct. 4-6 at Bellagio, Aria and MGM Grand. Celebrity chefs including Joel Robuchon, Michael Mina, Shawn McClain and Heather Zheng will collaborate on epicurean events, including an educational wine class with Master Sommelier Jason Smith, a cooking demo on how to make sushi 10 ways, a dinner with a Michelin-starred chef, a pizza party and more. Go to MGM Grand’s website for the incredible three-day culinary lineup.

Good eating! Remember: He who eats well lives well.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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