This Food Fest Will Prove That the Best Vegas Dining Isn’t Just on the Strip
These independent spots, many of which have opened recently and are run by veterans of big casino restaurants, often don’t get the attention they deserve. It can be hard, after all, to compete for recognition in a city dominated by billion-dollar resorts with million-dollar marketing budgets.
But at least things are starting to change a bit. Flock & Fowl chef Sheridan Su was a James Beard Award semifinalist this year, and there’s now enough of a thriving off-Strip scene to justify a blowout food festival devoted to the city’s neighborhood restaurants.
The May 12 Vegas UnStripped, By Locals food festival was announced via a tongue-in-cheek press release on April Fools’ Day, but the chefs involved are 100 percent serious about the event.
“We always intended to do it as a real thing,” says Eric Gladstone, the Vegas hospitality consultant who’s behind the event. “But the timing was too good.”
Gladstone and the chefs impishly realized they could have some fun and generate some buzz with what seemed like an April Fools’ prank at first.
Here are some details from the release:
“Chefs Brian Howard (Sparrow + Wolf), Chris Decker (Metro Pizza/Lulu’s Bread & Breakfast), Daniel Krohmer (Other Mama), James Trees (Esther’s Kitchen), Jamie Tran (The Black Sheep), Jason Olson (Paid In Full), Justin Kingsley Hall (The Kitchen at Atomic), Sheridan Su (Flock & Fowl/Fat Choy), and Khai Vu (District One/Le Pho/some other new thing) have confirmed they will participate in the event. More chefs will probably be added when they get around to answering their emails.” (Since the release came out, we’ve learned that Ralph Perrazzo of BBD's is also participating, and Vu's new project is a wine bar named Mordeo.)
“The event will be held at a super cool location downtown that will be announced shortly. Further participants, sponsors, and entertainers will also be announced, although you’ll probably hear about it first on social media, because these guys are terrible about keeping secrets, and publicists are always the last to know.”
The point is clear: This is an event from a bunch of chefs who like to do things their own way and tend to do everything themselves.
“Fuck, dude, I was draining water out of a sink and the pipe fell out,” Trees says. “All of a sudden, I became the fucking plumber. That’s just the way it is. Independent restaurants are a high-wire act.”
This is a circus that’s worth supporting. Here are a few reasons Vegas UnStripped should be special.
Because having all these chefs in the same place is like seeing a unicorn.
These are independent, often bootstrapped restaurants, which means they’re run by chefs who don’t take many days off and are almost always in their kitchens. It’s not easy for them to get away from their restaurants.
Plus, Vegas is a really big city in terms of geography. These neighborhood restaurants are in far-flung areas. Esther’s Kitchen in the Arts District is a 20-minute drive away from Other Mama in Spring Valley when traffic is light. It can take a half hour to get from The Black Sheep in Southwest to Lulu’s, more than 20 miles away in Centennial Hills.
“To get all these chefs together for one event is definitely unprecedented,” Gladstone says. “I didn’t see anyone else doing it, so I did it. If it happens again, it will be when we do this event next year.”
Because the chefs will be trying really hard.
Trees says he dislikes the kind of festivals where celebrity chefs are “there for 15 minutes fulfilling their contract” while their booths serve uninspired food.
“Then the chefs are back on their plane going to San Francisco or France or wherever these people live, and they don’t give a fuck about Vegas,” says Trees, who’s a Vegas native.
At UnStripped, the dishes will be about locals telling a story.
“Because of the nature of this, I’m pushing these chefs,” Gladstone says. “I want them to do a dish that really represents their style and character. I want them to push their boundaries.”
“You won’t see any sliders or something phoned in,” says Howard, who’s planning to serve a five-course tasting on one plate at UnStripped while also keeping Sparrow + Wolf open that night. “We are coming to impress.”
“We have a hashtag,” Trees says. “#nofuckingsliders.”
Because it’s inexpensive and for a good cause, and because the chefs are making serious sacrifices to make it happen.
All the chefs and Gladstone are donating their time for the event. UnStripped is on Mother’s Day weekend, so Krohmer rescheduled some big plans with his mom to participate in this event. Some chefs, like Trees, are closing their restaurant on that Saturday night.
“I expect to lose some money, but that’s not anything compared to what we’re gaining for the community,” Trees says.
Tickets for the event are just $65 (plus a $3.27 service fee), much less than a lot of dinners on the Strip, because the chefs want to make it accessible. That price includes food, entertainment, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Some proceeds will be donated to a to-be-announced charity, and some of the money will be used to help a chef friend with a new venture. That chef, as far as Trees knows, hasn’t heard about this largesse yet. The UnStripped crew want it to be a surprise. We’ll see if they can keep a secret.