Cigar Aficionado

Part Three: Las Vegas Big Smoke Sunday Sessions

Charlie Palmer Breakfast

You might think it a poor decision to expect cigar smokers to convene in Las Vegas at 9:30 on a Sunday morning, especially when most of them had spent the previous evening enjoying fine cigars and free-flowing libations at a Big Smoke. (And then, perhaps, headed to the casino.) But the audience turned out early on Sunday, lining up as much as an hour in advance for their breakfast with celebrity chef Charlie Palmer.

Who could blame them? The crowd favorite has cooked an amazing and hearty breakfast for several years running—moderator Gordon Mott admitted even he couldn't remember how many. "Every year is just a real surprise—he really goes all out for you guys," said Mott, Cigar Aficionado's executive editor. He noted the many Charlie Palmer restaurants around the United States, including Charlie Palmer Steak in Las Vegas, and offered a heartfelt congratulations to Chef Palmer for celebrating his 20th year of owning Aureole in New York City.

Soon after each diner took his seat, a waiter appeared with an amazing plate of breakfast: wild boar sausage en croûte (a very upscale version of pigs in a blanket); a crock of potted eggs studded with wild mushrooms, bacon and cheese; fingerling potatoes; and a slice of corn bread.

No meal in Sin City—no matter how early in the day—would be complete without an adult beverage. In this case, the breakfast was paired with a tall and splendidly spicy Skyy vodka Bloody Bull. "Don't forget the bomb!" said Palmer, referring to the cherry tomato buried within the drink—it was loaded with lemon Skyy vodka.

Attendees listen to Palmer speak.

Palmer, an avid hunter, described the difficulty faced by a chef when working with game meat, the theme of the breakfast. Animals in the wild tend to be much leaner than farm-raised fare, so game is often in dire need of fat and moisture. "Cooking any kind of wild game is much, much different from cooking what you buy in a store," he said. "You need to introduce basting, or fat." To do just that, Palmer demonstrated what he called a forgotten method known as larding.

Holding what looked like a large knitting needle, the chef attached a long, thin strip of fat to the specially tailored end: the device is known as a larding needle; the strips of fat are called lardons. Palmer thrust the hollow needle through a piece of boar meat, pulling the lardon behind it, and repeated the technique with other strips of fat, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches from one another. When the meat was suitably larded, he put it on a skillet on a hot stove and seared the meat.

"When you're cooking wild game, well done is not what you want," said Palmer. "Anything more than medium is going to have that livery taste." Heeding his own advice, Palmer took off the meat at medium-rare. He sliced it thickly, showing each piece: the meat, previously enormously lean, now had wonderful juices. The lardons had dissolved almost entirely, leaving moist meat in their wake.

Palmer showcased a secondary, more familiar method of adding fat called barding. He first put down long strips of cooking twine, then covered each with a slice of Hobbs bacon. He laid a lean tenderloin of venison over the slices, then used the twine to cloak the meat in the fat. Finally, he seared the meat over a hot flame, making a bacon-wrapped venison.

A Giants fan carries favor with Chef Palmer.

As he cooked, the football-loving chef spoke about his beloved New York Giants, who at the time were 7-1. He chided the Dallas Cowboy and Philadelphia Eagles fans in the audience as the presentation took place prior to the Giants-Eagles game that day. After Palmer expressed confidence in the G-Men, a fan from Pennsylvania called out: "I hope you can cook crow!" (It turned out he didn't need to: the Giants defeated the Eagles 36-31.)

After everyone had finished their meal, all were eager to light up the Coronado by La Flor Double Corona (a former Cigar Aficionado No. 2 Cigar of the Year) that was waiting. "Let's go upstairs and smoke," said Palmer, and the crowd began to head for the smoking floor upstairs.

Roll Your Own
Mas Tequila

Fathers and Sons
Cigar Rolling
Cigar Blending
Lunch With The Experts

Friday and Saturday Night