Food | Story by Al Mancini

New Chefs on the Beautiful Blocks

First-time festival chefs prepare to feed the masses

Illustration by Jon Estrada

Illustration by Jon Estrada

At last year’s inaugural Life Is Beautiful festival, I only saw two bands. That was perfectly fine with me. After a lifetime of rock concerts, this particular festival is all about the food for me. And with more than two dozen of America’s top chefs on the bill, I’m glad to see that a lot of my favorites from last year will be returning. But I’m even more interested in the newcomers. Because while there’s no question that every chef on this bill can cook, there’s a big difference between preparing a meal in a high-end kitchen and feeding the masses on the streets and parking lots of Downtown Las Vegas. Last year, there were some very creative offerings, and I’m eager to see what the class of 2014 has in store.

Echo and Rig’s Sam Marvin was drawn to the event by Bruce Bromberg, who serves on the festival’s culinary advisory board. The two go way back, having roomed together while attending Le Cordon Bleu in Paris a quarter-century ago. Marvin lent his old pal a hand last year at the Grills & Guitars festival kickoff party. But this year he’ll be representing his own restaurant at that event, and presenting a cooking demo in Container Park during the festival.

“It’s just a fun event,” Marvin says of the launch party. This year he and his crew will be offering lamb to the partiers. “We’re gonna do whole, local lamb,” he teases. “We’re gonna throw a spit up. We’ll be grilling all parts of the lamb, from the shoulder chops to the loin to the lamb chops to the porterhouses. And we’re gonna have fun with it. It’s gonna be a little butcher shop.”

While Marvin has at least some idea what to expect at the festival, José Andrés is a newcomer. But he’s an old friend of festival organizer Rehan Choudhry, and says he loves the idea, because the festival “doesn’t belong to any casino; it belongs to Las Vegas, and that’s very beautiful.”

In addition to speaking at Learning Session No. 7 (2 p.m. October 26), Andrés will be part of one of the four Culinary Villages scattered across the concert grounds. Eco-friendly Andrés will bring in solar-powered kitchens, but don’t expect his signature avant garde cuisine, which he says just isn’t appropriate for such large-scale outdoor cooking. “The truth is,” Andrés says, “some things are not meant to be done in volume.” So instead of such dishes as his foie gras waffle, which he briefly toyed with the idea of bringing to the festival, Andrés  plans to present “a lot of tacos and vegetables.”

The culinary lineup will also feature Brian Massie of the Light Group. But while he has eight spots in this town, Massie will  be representing just one: the soon-to-open Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar in Red Rock Resort. And he has big plans this weekend.

“We’re duplicating the feel, the ambience and the look of Hearthstone as much as we can, outside of Hearthstone,” says Massie, who promises at least three menu items. “We want people to come to our booth and just hang out. We’re really close to one of the stages, so you have a great view. There are multiple levels and multiple cooking stations.”

These are just a handful of the dining experiences in store for concertgoers, thanks to the newcomers and the returning celebrity chefs. There’s clearly no reason anyone should leave the festival hungry—or be forced to settle for a standard concession hot dog. But be careful: If you get too caught up in all the great food, you might miss the music altogether. I speak from experience.