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Final Observations From Vegas Uncork'd

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There's a good chance we really are still hungover from this past weekend's festivities. Here's the thing: You have Vegas, which is already the land of excess, go-go-go, non-stop everything, and then you have Bon Appetit's Uncork'd, a multi-day, multi-resort, multi-chef, food, drink and party extravaganza. Mix them together and *boom* excess on steroids. We blazed in the sun at the cooking competitions, we noshed at the Grand Tasting, we watched chefs win a couple thou at blackjack. Here, then, a final round up of gossip, quips and observations.

1) Outdoor cooking challenges in Vegas need shade. We're not sure if it was the sun beating down on his head or the lack of water, but veteran food critic Alan Richman proudly announced to the Masters vs. Rookies Culinary Pro-Am audience that Todd English is a "genius." And true, he did come up with some wacky concoction with cactus, foie gras and pineapple, including "frites" which sounded tasty. But genius? Richman also as curmudgeonly, hilarious, opinionated and abrasive in person. Generous, too: We shared a cab, he paid.

2) BA's restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton says he likes to judge competitions next to Richman because no matter how much he criticizes a dish, he'll always look like the nice guy. We think it's because Knowlton will always be the "dashing" one, as the audience was reminded over and over again by hosts Cat Cora, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken.

3) The only people who can possibly upstage witty banter between said judges are actors and comedians like Louie Anderson and John O'Hurley because even when they're playing sous chef to chefs like Paul Bartolotta and Rick Moonen, they're trying to win the crowd with "balling" jokes and a flash of leg. Out of four competitions, all the pros beat the rookies except one: Laurent Tourondel lost to the SW Steakhouse sous chefs.

4) Cat Cora is tiny, but loud. Who knew? We heard she was trying to open something in LA, which she confirmed: She bid on the Scarboni space in Santa Monica but didn't get it (now becoming the new Jason Travi restaurant). But she's also opening Cat Cora BBQ at the South Coast Plaza Macy's. It's sort of a high-end food court with Frontera Fresco by Rick Bayless and a Burger Bar from Marcus Samuelsson. Still wants to do something in LA.

5) Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken actually visit the Border Grill at Mandalay Bay. A lot. Feniger said she used to come once a week, but now it's about every other week. Compared to other marquee chefs in Vegas who go once every few months or so, she's practically a local. For LA, she said demo just started her street-food concept going in on Highland. And who knows, there may be another restaurant on the horizon downtown, too.

6) Chefs apparently love blackjack. There were two late-night card tournaments slated during the weekend around the Hard Rock pool. Night one was poker, but even though the list named about 10 different celebrity chefs (including Wolfgang Puck and Guy Savoy), we only saw Bradley Ogden and writer Alan Richman. Blackjack, however, pulled them in droves: Ogden again, the Border Girls, David Burke, David Walzog and Paul Bartolotta from the Wynn, Rick Moonen, Todd English, and Richard Sandoval. Bonus hotness supplied by Jason Lewis from Sex and the City. A big win for the Wynn chefs: Bartolotta took first prize, Walzog third. Actor Jason Lewis lost but remained hot.
· More Uncork'd Coverage Here [~ELA~]

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