Part Three: Las Vegas Big Smoke Sunday Seminars

Charlie Palmer Cooks Breakfast

The final day of the Las Vegas Big Smoke begins early with a reviving meal. The feast is dearly needed—after a day of solid cigar smoking and evenings that go long into the night, a man needs a mighty breakfast to prepare him for more cigars.

And this is no mere breakfast, but breakfast prepared by a master, Chef Charlie Palmer, the man behind Aureole, Charlie Palmer Steak and many other restaurants in his dozen eatery empire. (It actually numbers one more, but he prefers the unlucky number not be mentioned.)

The Big Smoke seminar participants poured into a ballroom set for more than 500. Gordon Mott, executive editor of Cigar Aficionado, warmly welcomed the crowd, and promised a meal they wouldn't forget. "I hope you've had a great Big Smoke," said Mott. "We'll be back. I hope you'll be back."

Soon, waiters and waitresses began bringing out the meal, a hearty selection of smoked pork schnitzel, a poached egg, a fingerling potato hash enlivened with bits of speck (smoked prosciutto) and a sauce of mushroom velouté with more crisp speck. This was no dieter's breakfast.

Celebrity Chef Charlie Palmer created a sumptuous feast.

Keeping with the theme of Vegas excess, the meal was paired with Charlie's Ultimat Bloody Mary, made with Ultimat vodka. There were also pastries for those who were still hungry, as well as coffee and juice. A bold Cain Habano 654Tm, created by Sam Leccia and made by Oliva Cigar Co., was named as the after-breakfast cigar (and was handed out post meal.)

"This is our sixth breakfast together—isn't it wonderful?" Chef Palmer asked from the front of the room. He began a cooking demonstration of schnitzel (or cutlets or palliards, depending on how you call it). The chef took a hunk of veal and sliced it thin, across the grain, making a small slice. He then picked up a meat pounder the size of a medieval warhammer.

"Don't do this when you're angry," he said, eliciting chuckles from the crowd. Using a delicate and practiced touch, he pounded the veal, pulling outward with each strike, making a thin cutlet.

Palmer, who is an avid New York Giants fan, kept up a constant chatter with the audience, including a few fans of rival NFC East teams. He acknowledged the Giants struggles, and offered no criticism of an Eagles fan, but chuckled when someone claimed to be a fan of Washington. "Redskins fan?" he said. "Oh yeah—they're a great team."

The secret to tender paillard, schnitzel or cutlets? A mallet.

Palmer gave tips for becoming a star home chef as he contemplated a plate of Panko bread crumbs, which he was going to use to coat the cutlets. He added some seasonings. "This is one of those things where you can create a recipe that's really yours," he said. One could add sesame seeds, herbs, crushed corn flakes—whatever, and make it unique. "It's about what you like."

He coated a pan with a thin layer of oil with a high smoke content (no need for olive oil here) and used a medium hot pan. "Remember, you're not deep frying—you need only about 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch of oil." He cautioned home cooks against dropping any food in oil towards them—always let it fall away, so if oil does splash it splashes away from you. Then he told a cautionary tale as the cutlets cooked.

Few people invite Chef Palmer to dinner, so he was excited when a good customer from Aureole asked him to dine at her apartment one night. He showed up, had a glass of wine in the living room with the other guests, and was enjoying his night off from cooking. Then he grew worried for the hostess when she failed to leave the kitchen. He stepped inside.

The breakfast was a hit—the crowd gave Chef Palmer a standing ovation.

She was wounded, clutching her burned hand. She had dropped food into a pan of hot oil, and copious amounts of hot oil had scalded her arm and she was in horrible pain, unable to continue.

"I said, OK, step out of the picture—chef is here. I felt like Superman," he said. The crowd roared in approval. As for the hostess? "We gave her a couple of Vicodin—everything went swell."

Chef Palmer asked the crowd how they liked breakfast, and everyone cheered. He smiled happily, then finished the cutlets, and gave some more advice.

"Remember, don't cook," he said with a smile. "Make reservations."

Then, showing his generosity, the chef drew names from a raffle bin, giving away signed aprons, cookbooks, bottles of wine and gift certificates. Everyone left happy—and full—ready to roll cigars in the next seminar.

Photos by Sjodin Photography

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