Las Vegas’ premiere food festival,Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appétit, rolls into town for its ninth year April 23-26 (VegasUncorked.com). With 23 events, Uncork’d showcases the talents of dozens of top chefs, including first-time 2015 participants Emeril Lagasse and Brian Malarkey. But chef Julian Serrano is one of only a handful of chefs who has been there since the beginning (others include Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken).
“It’s a great accomplishment to have been there from the beginning,” Serrano says. “[Vegas Uncork’d] is good for the city and good for the restaurants.”
Fans come to Uncork’d not only to eat and educate themselves, but also to get up close and personal with some of the nation’s most respected chefs. And Serrano says he too looks forward to hanging out with his colleagues. “I’m on the phone with other chefs every day. It’s an incredible thing to get together with them, to share things about the business and have fun.”
Looking back on the last eight festivals, Serrano says the most memorable moment was conducting the first opening-day saber-off (the event’s ceremonial first toast). The act of opening a bottle of Champagne by striking it with a massive blade is dramatic—and dangerous. And Serrano admits, “I was terrified because I had never done it myself. I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t want to screw up in front of all these personalities!’” It went off without a hitch, however. And the chef has been asked to do the honors again this year.
Serrano’s local empire has grown along with the festival. When Uncork’d launched in 2007, the only restaurant he had to represent was his award-winning Picasso. By 2010 he had launched his eponymous Aria tapas restaurant. And he’s currently preparing for the April 9 opening of his Italian-inspired restaurant Lago in Bellagio, where he’ll host the saber-off and an April 25 Uncork’d brunch. The restaurant will feature patio seating with one of the resort’s best views of its famed fountains. And the chef says he’s excited about showing off the new space to the assembled foodies. “I feel a lot of pressure,” he concedes. “I hope we’ll be ready.”
Given his track record and the audience he’s expecting, Serrano will undoubtedly make his deadlines. And as the event’s newest venue, Lago will likely be one of the hottest spots for culinary power-meals. But right now the chef is worried more about business than schmoozing. “For me it is not as much of a party anymore,” Serrano says of Uncork’d. “In the beginning, I was more excited to hit the [dining] rooms with all these [chefs], and chase them down to shake all their hands. I still do a little of that. But now, it’s more for me about concentration and focus than the parties.”
That’s fine. It just means more room for the rest of us.