Nine-thirty comes early in Las Vegas. In the land of bright lights, free flowing drinks and excessive nightlife, the nights in the desert never seem to end. So when 500 cigar lovers came together for the second day of Big Smoke seminars on Sunday morning, it was understandable to see a few tired eyes in the house.
But this group was eager to dive back into the world of cigars, and they were soon invigorated by a hearty, creative and bracing breakfast prepared by one of the city's most gifted culinary minds, Chef Nicole Brisson. Previously the executive chef of CarneVino, one of America's greatest steakhouses, today she has even more responsibility as the culinary director of Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group in Las Vegas, overseeing the fine dining served not only at CarneVino but at B&B Ristorante, Otto Enoteca and more.
The menu Chef Brisson had prepared for the crowd was hearty, and it also honored her roots. Dubbed "A Cigar Lover's Polish Breakfast," it combined house-made kielbasa over homemade sauerkraut, potato platski (crisp potato pancakes) and soft scrambled eggs. Bringing it all together was a fresh baked babka.
"This is a very classic Polish breakfast," said the chef, who enjoys cigars herself. "Perfect for a night after smoking cigars."
Those who were dubious about eating sauerkraut for breakfast were soon swayed; the acidity of the fermented vegetable cut through the fat of the hearty kielbasa, combining for a remarkably lively flavor. "It's one of my favorite things to eat," Brisson said. The kielbasa was succulent and slightly smoky, the platski (which the chef compared to latkes) were crunchy and tasty. The individual-sized babkas, which looked and tasted a bit like Italian panettones, had a mellow sweetness and helped fill the belly. The crowd was soon silent, eating away.
Brisson spoke of how one can manage the flavor of sauerkraut by timing the fermentation—the longer it ferments, the more intense the kraut. The sauerkraut and kielbasa were both made by herself, personally. "I didn't want to give you guys store-bought kielbasa," she said to the smiling audience.
As she cooked on stage, she drizzled good olive oil into a warm sauté pan before putting in the eggs. "I learned from an old Italian grandmother to always cook eggs in olive oil," she advised, passing on the lesson. She avoids butter, which she says can mask the flavor of good eggs.
No Big Smoke event is complete without a cigar, and even though there was no smoking while breakfast was taking place, there was a cigar for after the meal. And it was a fine one, an Aging Room Quattro Concerto S from the Dominican Republic.
Rafael Nodal, the man behind the Aging Room brand, came to the stage to talk about the cigar, as well as his journey as a young man from Cuba to New York. "When I arrived in the United States, I was handed an apple and a Coca-Cola," he said. "I had never had either one before."
Nodal's cigars have been extremely well received, especially those from the Aging Room brand. One of the line's other sizes, the F55 Concerto, was named Cigar Aficionado's No. 2 cigar of 2013.
When the audience had finished its questions, and the last fork had been set down on an empty plate, the members of the audience readied themselves for the first cigar of the day, and a tough test. It was time to learn how to roll a cigar.