In Features, Homepage by Alyssa Crame

APRIL 21, 2017
Check the picnic basket: Beer? Check. Chips? Check. Octopus? … Wow, someone’s tired of PB&J, huh?“

“Definitely not your typical barbecue picnic—that’s where we get to have fun,” says Shawn McClain, executive chef/managing partner of Aria’s Sage and Five50 Pizza Bar and Mandalay Bay’s Libertine Social, who’s among the robust roster of culinary masters at Vegas Uncork’d.

“We’ll do it with an olive puree and get it nice and charred on an open grill. And we’re going to lightly smoke some shrimp and finish on the grill, and have a nice saffron yogurt and quinoa salad with that.”

Toss the beer in the cooler and stuff the chips back in the bag. Returning for its 11th go-round, the four-day Vegas Uncork’d—including the new “Picnic at the Park” event April 29 with McClain and others at The Park—is one serious foodie fest.

“Having done events around the world, there are events I always pencil into my calendar and Uncork’d is one of them,” McClain says of the food-wine-and-spirits blowout presented by Bon Appetit magazine. “Las Vegas has such an amazing culinary scene and I’m always so amazed by the level of participation from great chefs.”

Think of them as an epicurean all-star team, as the lineup of chefs, mixologists and sommeliers includes Tom Colicchio, Charlie Palmer, Julian Serrano, Michael Mina, Roy Ellamar, Bobby Flay, Alain Ducasse, Giada De Laurentiis, Buddy “Cake Boss’ Valastro, Gordon Ramsay and Wolfgang Puck. Those stars will be sprinkled at events at venues including Caesars Palace, The Cromwell, MGM Resorts International’s The Park, The Cosmopolitan, The Venetian and The Palazzo.

“The biggest part is how hands-on the event is, the interplay between guests and chefs,” McClain says. “I love visiting booths, trying new food and talking to chefs who aren’t in Vegas as often. I’m a No. 1 fan. And I love people to talk to me about food, whether they know food or don’t. The foodies that come are world travelers who relay stories about dinner in exotic places or overseas.”

While a complete listing of all 35 events is available at vegasuncorked.com, here are some highlights: a “quickfire” happy hour with contestants and food challenges with chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger at Caesars, cocktails and small-plate delicacies with chef Timon Balloo at The Venetian, and a dinner at the Old Homestead Steakhouse at Caesars (all April 27); a “potbelly brunch” with John Kunkel at The Venetian, “Lunch Like a Spaniard” with chef Jose Andres at Cosmopolitan, and a “Food Porn” cooking demo and a Spago 25th anniversary lunch with Puck, both at Caesars (all April 28); separate brunches with Ducasse (The Delano) and Giada (The Cromwell), a Nobu teppan tasting and a tapas and wine-tasting with Milliken and Feniger, both at Caesars, and a cake and cocktail party with Valastro at The Venetian (all April 29); and a Little Italy brunch at Caesars (April 30).

Plus the signature event: “The Grand Tasting,” in which 2,500-plus culinary enthusiasts sample a seemingly endless array of dishes and drinks by the collective kitchen kings at Caesars’ Garden of the Gods pool area.

“It’s just so rare when tickets go as quickly as they do to this,” McClain says. “It’s a testament to how good the events are, and the word of mouth.” Speaking of mouths: Ladies and gentlemen … Start your palates.

April 27-30, locations, times and prices vary, 21+. vegasuncorked.com