I checked my neck for bite marks as I left the Venetian hotel and headed across the Strip to Caesars Palace. The sun was blinding me and I felt like my skin was melting, or maybe on fire. I thought I might have become a vampire. But no, it was just the Las Vegas sun — and not at noon, but at 5:30 pm.
It was my fault for wearing a sportcoat, really, but sportcoats have such a slimming effect. It’s so much easier than losing weight.
I was in Vegas for HDExpo 2007, a big conference and trade show for designers of hospitality venues, such as hotels and restaurants. I was there to talk on a panel with avant-garde celebrity pastry chef Will Goldfarb of Room4Dessert in New York and hip young Joseph Elevado, executive chef of Social House in Las Vegas.
Hospitality Design magazine’s Tara Mastrelli was moderating the panel. Tara and I go way back from when she worked at Restaurant Business, and we have been known to sing karaoke together. She has known Will Goldfarb for even longer, as he and her older brother were fraternity brothers at Duke.
The panel went well. I talked about foodservice trends, Will showed pictures and videos of his virtual restaurant in Second Life, and Joseph showed pictures of Social House and talked about how the décor and food went together. The audience stayed until the end, asking questions until time ran out, when Tara cut them off and some of them came up to ask more questions anyway.
After that I snacked on noodles at the Venetian’s Asian noodle restaurant (many Las Vegas casinos have them — Atlantic City ones, too — as the market for Chinese gamblers is vast), and then I wandered the trade show floor for a bit, looking at light fixtures and floor coverings and fountains and mirrors and furniture. Then after a nap (my flight left at 7:30 am), I went to the Expo’s "party by the pool" at Caesars Palace, which was where this blog entry began.
I sipped Riesling and then Chardonnay before settling on the Jekel Pinot Noir for the evening, wandering around, noticing that designers as a rule dress much more stylishly than restaurant operators or chefs and trying to find a conversation to fall into.
Finally someone from Hospitality Design whom I must have met before (she knew me), introduced me to some young designers. Among them was Michael Gentile, a young chap now based in Los Angeles but originally from The Hill, an Italian neightborhood in St. Louis known for its food. So we talked restaurants for awhile until I swerved the subject to design, because I already know about restaurants. I took issue with the clock-radio in my hotel room, which had a blue LED display and was hard to read. Michael said we were going to see a lot of blue light in the coming years — under beds, in elevators, wherever one might expect to see colored lighting.
I meandered through a few other conversation groups and ended up talking to Will Goldfarb, Larry Bogdanow — who was the only designer I knew there as we had judged a gingerbread house contest together — and Mindy Lehman Cameron, another designer and an interesting woman depite her being a vegetarian. We sat and chatted until the staff started stacking chairs. Will wandered off somewhere, but the rest of us stopped for a bite at Bradley Ogden. I ordered an appetizer involving a poached egg and greens and, for a main course, fish and chips. I was not planning to be spotted by the chef de cuisine, David Varley. Maybe it was the poached egg that tipped him off. Anyway, he came out and said “long time no see!”
“Actually it was just a few days ago,” I said, as we had just met at a Beard Award’s afterparty. I immediately regretted saying that, as it sounded snotty, but David didn’t seem to mind. Instead he sent out a sautéed shrimp appetizer and some foie gras terrine, followed by a cheese course that I had to tackle on my own as Larry and Mindy had 10pm tickets to Cirque de Soleil.