In the weeks and months leading up to Life Is Beautiful, I wrote my fair share of stories about its culinary program and interviewed numerous chefs, restaurateurs and concert officials. But one name was conspicuously absent: Jolene Mannina. The promoter served as the festival’s culinary director in its debut year. And while the festival’s culinary program has continued to excel in her absence, she’ll be forever linked to Life Is Beautiful in my mind. So while we bask in the memories, tinnitus and indigestion of that festival, it seems like as good a time as any to see what Mannina is up to these days. As you can see, she and her company Relish LLC have a very busy month ahead of them.
First up is the return of her FYI channel food truck cooking competition show, Late Nite Chef Fight. Season 2 was shot in June in the parking lot at the Palms following a successful first-season run. Participating chefs sweating it out on the trucks this season include Aaron Oster of Echo & Rig, Daniel Krohmer of Other Mama, Pot Liquor’s Doug Bell and Geno Bernardo of the soon-to-open Herringbone. Judges Spike Mendelsohn and Casey Lane will even take their turn as contestants.
“The production team was more tight this time,” Mannina says. “And they threw even more curveballs into the competition.” Her personal role in the show is still uncertain. As the creator of the famed Back of the House Brawls at Tommy Rocker’s, after which the show was patterned, Mannina last year served as head of the “crowd table.” But that element was eliminated from the show this year. So while she was interviewed for each episode this time around, Mannina says, “I have no idea if they’re going to use that footage or not.” Season 2 of Late Nite Chef Fight will premiere October 15.
Mannina is also lending chef John Church (formerly of MTO Café and RM Seafood, currently with Artisanal Foods) a hand with a new communal dinner series. A spinoff of MTO’s Sunday Suppers, the dinner in a way picks up where the now-concluded Project Dinner Table left off about a year ago. Giving Back Sunday Supper will take place at Tivoli Village on October 18, and will kick off with a cocktail hour featuring snacks from DW Bistro, Other Mama and Echo & Rig. The sit-down portion of the meal will include courses by Church and Krohmer, as well as Kim Canteenwalla of Made L.V., Sam Marvin of Echo & Rig and Desyree Bentancourt of Gelatology; Belvedere will provide drinks. Proceeds from the event will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, while future events will benefit other causes.
Teaming with Motley Brews, Mannina will once again coordinate the food element for the Downtown Brew Fest on October 24 at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater. In August, she filled the same role at the Vegas-based Motley Brews’ first out-of-market event, the Brew & Food Festival in San Diego. For the Downtown Brew Fest, she’s booked Echo & Rig’s Marvin and Blue Ribbon’s Bromberg brothers to cater the VIP area. Mannina will also book the grub for the general admission area, although those vendors have yet to be finalized.
Mannina is also planning her own event, The Real Taste of Liquor-ish, for the next day, October 25. “This is more focused on liquor,” she says. “I’m highlighting four bartenders, really highlighting the bartenders as the stars.” Those bartenders will be SeongHa Lee, Bryant Jane, Matt Graham and Lyle Cervenka, with Church supplying food. That party will take place in the former Tim Bavington gallery Downtown on West Mesquite Avenue.
Finally, if you want to get out of town, Mannina is coordinating the food for this year’s Rise Festival in the Mojave Desert on October 10. At the culmination of this arts festival, attendees release lanterns into the sky above the Moapa River Indian Reservation. “It’s completely remote, in the middle of the desert,” she says. “And they wanted to do specifically food trucks this time, so we’re bringing in 15 trucks.”
And those are just the public highlights Mannina has planned for this month. Plenty of private parties are also on her schedule. Clearly, I don’t have to worry about not feeling her influence on the local food scene.