It can be a chore to wake up early in Vegas, but when the reward for rising is a bag of cigars and breakfast cooked by one of Sin City's best chefs, suddenly it's fun.
Waking up is exactly what 500 attendees did (some no doubt easier than others) before they shuffled their way into a ballroom to kick off the Sunday lifestyle seminar portion of Cigar Aficionado's Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend. Aside from bottomless cups of coffee, each place setting had a welcomed Bloody Mary cocktail.
While the Saturday Big Smoke seminars traditionally focus on tobacco and cigars, Sunday's talks are more about the lifestyle associated with being a cigar enthusiast, namely food and spirits. Between the dazzling casino lights, the din of gambling and the all-night parties, it's easy to forget that Las Vegas has become a culinary hub for many of fine dining's biggest names.
One of these names is Luciano Pellegrini. Born and raised in Bergamo, Italy, Pellegrini's first stop in the United States was Los Angeles before he ended up calling Vegas his hometown. The award-winning executive chef of Valentino had been tapped to head-man the Sunday breakfast seminar. Not only would he be serving a scrumptious meal, but he would show and explain to the audience how to cook it themselves.
As the crowd found their seats, Pellegrini held up his Bloody Mary for a salutatory "Good morning." The show was on.
The staff served the seminar audience a pizza-style frittata with mozzarella and marinara served with smoked homemade veal sausage and grilled polenta. Accompanying this dish was a soft frico made from shredded potatoes, onions and three gooey cheeses: friulano, montasio and aged mezzano. Hungry audience members quickly dug in, while Pellegrini began his cooking exhibition.
The frico and frittata are popular dishes in Northeast Italy, Pellegrini said. He explained that while the dishes can appear complicated, both are actually easy to prepare.
Pellegrini not only emphasized using quality ingredients, but especially a non-stick pan. "Otherwise you will have to use sticks and sticks of butter, and well," he joked, putting his hands up to his sides. He said the non-stick pan makes flipping the frittata much easier, and that the frico will develop a better crisp, which, for some, is its signature.
Pellegrini began with the frico. In a silver mixing bowl, the chef tossed in a few handfuls of shoestring potatoes and onions. He then used his hands to mix in the cheeses, working the potatoes and cheese together so it almost resembled a dough. He then added a bit of water to the non-stick pan and carefully used his fingers to spread a thin layer of the frico mix on the pan's surface.
While the frico crisped he moved on to the frittata. In another mixing bowl he whisked four eggs with some mozzarella cheese until it was frothy, then immediately poured the mixture into a non-stick pan. Using a spatula, Pellegrini started to scramble the egg, but not completely. "You want to do this in order to get the egg cooking and create a nice base," he explained.
As the frico and frittata both cooked, Pellegrini sliced in half his veal sausages. The chef explained that he had prepared the sausages before at his restaurant, and that the "secret recipe" of spices included licorice, nutmeg, rosemary and sage. A little olive oil in another pan and started the sausages off.
Then, in one smooth motion, Pellegrini flipped the frittata, garnering a round of applause from the crowd. "Still got it," he joked. The chef would flip the frittata one more time before plating the dish. As he plated, Pellegrini dabbed the top of the frittata with his towel. An audience member shouted "Why are you doing that?" and Pellegrini explained that it's the only way to soak up any excess moisture.
Pellegrini then answered a few questions from the audience, including "What's your favorite cigar?"
"I like Cubans," Pellegrini said, "but anything with a nice, balanced flavor I'll be happy with."
With that, it was time for the crowd to move on to the next seminar and learn how to roll their own cigars. On the way in, attendees received a Romeo by Romeo y Julieta Toro, a 6 by 54 ring smoke. While Nevada laws didn't allow the audience to smoke during breakfast, many welcomed the postprandial cigar and lit it up.