Although Vegas Uncork’d ($225-$300) takes place May 8-11, the Grand Tasting—which I affectionately refer to as the Food Nerd Prom—is the biggest party of the week, and where you’ll find everyone who’s anyone in the Las Vegas culinary scene.
But trying to battle more than 2,500 other hungry food lovers around the Garden of the Gods pool complex at Caesars Palace can be trying, especially as you’re attempting to juggle a plastic wine glass and small plate, and still look suave while eating a molten-hot morsel in 90-degree heat. So here are a few tips to help you eat your way through the eighth annual Grand Tasting on May 9:
1. Set your priorities. Determine whose food and drinks you need to try, whose you’d like to try, and who you are OK with skipping. There are more than 70 chefs represented here, and while at the beginning you are positive you can eat your way through all 70 restaurants, 35 bars and 30 wine stations—I don’t mean to doubt your abilities, but it’s not going to happen.
2. Seek out new chefs and restaurants. That is, both new to the Grand Tasting and new to you. Exciting additions this year include the effervescent Giada di Laurentiis, the ebullient Guy Fieri and Cake Boss Buddy Valastro. When they’re at their booths, expect even longer wait times.
3. If you really want to meet your favorite chefs, get there super early. Be one of the first through the gate at 7:30 p.m. or buck up the extra $75 that gives you a 30 minute head start on the general admission crowd. For the first hour or so of the festival, if they’re not doing interviews, chefs are most likely at their booths and happy to meet you. After that, they tend to Houdini. And remember: Play it cool. It’s really exciting to meet chefs you’ve watched on TV, but don’t get grabby with Mario Batali and don’t offer Gordon Ramsay an absurd amount of money for him to call you a donkey (he won’t).
4. Opt to eat your way through a little later than everyone else. My plan of attack for 2014 is to wait until around 8:30 or possibly 9 p.m. to make my rounds (I may or may not just be hanging out drinking until then). I may miss the chefs at their booths, but by this time, everyone else has made at least one lap, and the lines die down considerably. I’ve also now had a chance to ask people what their favorite bites have been. This is when I swoop in, grab a plate and eat at my leisure.
5. Don’t fall in the pool. I’ve never seen it myself, but I’m sure it’s happened.