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Part Three: Las Vegas Big Smoke Sunday Seminars

Breakfast with Charlie Palmer
Nov 10, 2005 | By Michael Moretti
Part Three: Las Vegas Big Smoke Sunday Seminars
A Bull Shot made with beef consommé, an Absolut Peppar Bloody Mary garnished with a skewered prawn, and a cigar-puffing chef who at first sight could pass for a football coach greeted guests sitting down to the first meal of the day. This is the way Charlie Palmer does breakfast.

"Here's a couple of cocktails," said Palmer, standing at the front of the ballroom garbed in his signature chef's coat. "You've got to have all the food groups."

Breakfast with Charlie Palmer (once called the Real Man's Breakfast) is for the stout of heart and a can't-miss occasion on the Big Smoke weekend.

This year's breakfast was especially significant. Along with Palmer's culinary creations, attendees were treated to Cigar Aficionado magazine's 2004 cigar of the year, the Padrón Serie 1926 40th Anniversary. Now that's how you start the morning right.

"This year I tried to outdo last year," Palmer began.

Those sitting down might have thought they had wandered into the wrong room at first. Next to the tall glasses of spicy breakfast booze was a yogurt parfait up in a martini glass and garnished with berries. The rich yogurt was sweet and savory, but some surely wondered, had Charlie gone soft?

"I consulted the federal guidelines of nutrition -- and ended up with the menu," said Palmer.

But the yogurt served as merely a diversion. All bets were off when the doors flanking Palmer burst open and the main course was brought triumphantly into the room propped on the shoulders of the wait staff.

Orlando Padrón spoke to the crowd about the Padrón Serie 1926 40th Anniversary.
The entrée did not adhere to the federal health guidelines, but it was everything that audiences have come to expect over the last four years of Big Smoke breakfasts. Arranged on the plate were two plump poached eggs perched atop fluffy black pepper and scallion biscuits smothered in creamy hollandaise dusted with smoked paprika and partnered with a giant cut of grilled country ham and crisp asparagus spears. As the saying goes, it was almost too beautiful to eat. But the stomach was more powerful than the will in this case. So, with misty eyes, diners dug in regardless.

As usual, the start of the discussion session was very quiet and filled only with the clinking of forks and knives. This is always a good sign for the host.

After the meal, coffee was served and the discussion turned to food and cigar pairing. This year, guests were given a booklet containing recipes to the food that Palmer plated at the Big Smoke evening sessions under the banner of two of his 10 restaurants, Charlie Palmer Steak House and Aureole. Dishes in the guide included a crispy pork belly and fig hors d'oeuvres, a Guinness braised short rib entrée and a smoked duck breast appetizer.

"With a cigar, there is a spiciness, a peppery taste. I try to balance that and always try to use a peppery coating for things," said Palmer.

Regarding the cuisine at hand, Palmer talked in depth about the artisanal ham -- which is raised by a producer Palmer frequently uses in the United States -- a practice for which he has become known. He explained that specialty and organic products such as the country ham are becoming available more and more on the U.S. market and are improving the quality of American food overall.

Attendees enjoy a round of breakfast Bloody Marys.
Palmer gave advice on a variety of topics dished up by the audience, including cookware, kitchen appliances, slow-braised ribs, and how to barbecue meat for better flavor.

One topic that garnered special attention was how to cook a steak at home in a pan and make it to restaurant caliber. Palmer said the first thing is to get a thick cut of meat -- it should be at least one and a half inches thick. He said he could never make the thin slices under cellophane work. Regarding seasoning, Palmer advised not to use anything except a little salt and pepper right before you put the steak in the pan. The pan should be heavy bottomed and/or cast iron and super hot when the steak is put on in order to sear the meat. He added that steak should not be cooked with olive oil, but rather with grape seed oil. Olive oil, Palmer said, breaks down at too low a temperature for steak.

Fed, fatted, smoking, happy and a bit more knowledgeable in the kitchen, the Sunday seminar audience still crowded around Palmer after the session for autographs, last-minute tips, pictures and pearls of wisdom. But the rolling tables were calling down the hall for the next leg of the Big Smoke's final day.

Photos by Camilla Sjodin Hadowanetz