Daily Archives: August 18, 2009

All the Skinny on “Top Chef: Las Vegas”

Bravo has revealed the identities of the 17 “chef’testants” who will be competing on Top Chef: Las Vegas and announced the sixth edition of Top Chef will premiere Wednesday, August 26 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. TopChefVegas

Top Chef: Las Vegas’ contestants will be competing for a grand-prize package that will include prizes similar to the reality culinary competition’s previous seasons.  Thanks to show sponsor Glad, the winner will receive $100,000 in seed money to help open a restaurant; a feature in Food & Wine magazine; a showcase at the Annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen; and the title of “Top Chef.”  However Top Chef’s sixth season will also feature an additional prize: $100,000 of merchandise provided by Macy’s. 

The popular program was filmed in and around Las Vegas earlier this year and soon became the talk of the town’s culinary circles – and the city’s worst kept TV secret. 

Bravo refused to confirm or comment about the long-awaited Vegas version “Top Chef” until last month, after production had wrapped on the seventh series of the popular show. Meanwhile, cameras and crew members were seen throughout the city, shooting segments at various locations including M Resort, which served as the production location during filming, Springs Preserve and World Market Center. 

The network said “some of the top names in food, movies and entertainment” will be featured throughout season six, including actress Natalie Portman, and Las Vegas Rio headliners Penn & Teller. 

Unfortunately, none of the “Top Chef: Las Vegas” so-called “chef’testants” are from Las Vegas. The closest to a local competitor the city has is the youngest of the brothers, 30-year-old Michael Voltaggio, who lives in Los Angeles, Calif. (The Voltaggios grew up an hour north of Washington, D.C., in Frederick, Md.)

Some of the biggest names in food will also take part, including Wolfgang Puck, Todd English, Daniel Boulud, Charlie Palmer, Paul Bartolotta, and Hubert Keller (who made his “Top Chef Masters” debut during the spin-off series’ debut last month), among others. 

Lately, there have been a couple of Bravo’s Top Chef sightings as the cheftestants, Tom Colicchio and the gang bounced around from hotel to hotel shooting Season Six.   They’ve been spotted at Mandalay Bay and The M Resort.

As a footnote, Tom C. has two restaurants in Las Vegas.  Craftsteak at MGM Grand, opened in 2002 and is one of the best steakhouses in Las Vegas- a favorite haunt of ex-President Bill Clinton and rocker Gene Simmons.  Colicchio’s other venue is Wichcraft, also at MGM Grand- the sandwiches are to die for.

The network had formally renewed Top Chef for a sixth season in April and the Sin City represents the sixth different location for the culinary competition, which now ranks as Bravo’s highest-rated series following Project Runway’s move to Lifetime.

 “Las Vegas has become a culinary destination — some of the world’s best chefs and restaurants are here — so it’s only fitting that our newest season was the best yet,” Top Chef lead judge Tom Colicchio said. “You’ll be surprised by the quality of chef’testants we discovered this season. They really raised the bar.”

In addition to Colicchio, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi and judges Gail Simmons and Toby Young will also reprise their roles for the show’s sixth edition, which was filmed at The M Resort Spa & Casino in Las Vegas.

The season will also include guest appearances by  Wolfgang Puck, Todd English, Natalie Portman, Daniel Boulud, Penn & Teller, Hubert Keller, Laurent Tourondel, Tim Love, Michelle Bernstein, Tyler Florence, Charlie Palmer, Paul Bartolotta, Nigella Lawson and Jerome Bocuse. 

The upcoming season of “Top Chef” will follow the same structure as previous seasons, with a short “quickfire” challenge at the beginning of each episode followed by a main elimination challenge. 

“Each episode holds two challenges for the chefs,” stated this morning’s press release. “The first is a quickfire test of their basic abilities and the second is a more involved elimination challenge designed to test the versatility and inventiveness of the chefs as they take on unique culinary trials such as working with unusual and exotic foods or catering for a range of demanding clients.”

Bravo is also bringing a few new features to the “Top Chef” table this season, including a special “Top Recipe” Web series featuring season five contestant Fabio Viviani. 

Each week, the former “Top Chef: New York” personality will demonstrate how to cook the winning dish in a segment exclusive to the Web. 

Another “Webisode” series, “Guest Judges: Strip’d,” will provide insights and a more personal perspective of the judges, while another will show the chefs out on the town in Las Vegas and give viewers a peek into the chefs’ lives outside the kitchen. 

Further technological enhancements will include a phone-based “Slice & Dice Showdown” hosted by one of the show’s judges, Toby Young. The mobile video series will see each of the Voltaggio brothers lead a team of their fellow “Top Chef” competitors through a foodie challenge in anticipation of the final, ultimate dessert bake-off.

Top Chef: Las Vegas’ 17 contestants are:

– Ash Fulk, a 29-year-old from Pleasant Hill, CA who currently resides New York, NY

– Ashley Merriman, a 32-year-old from Center Sandwich, NH who currently resides in Seattle, WA

– Bryan Voltaggio, a 33-year-old from Frederick, MD who currently resides in Urbana, MD

– Eli Kirshtein, a 25-year-old from Atlanta, GA

– Eve Aronoff, a 40-year-old from Ann Arbor, MI

– Hector Santiago, a 41-year-old from San Juan, PR who currently resides in Atlanta, GA

– Jennifer Carroll, a 33-year-old from Philadelphia, PA

– Jennifer Zavala, a 31-year-old from Cromwell, CT who currently resides in Philadelphia, PA

– Jesse Sandlin, a 30-year-old from Baltimore, MD

– Kevin Gillespie, a 26-year-old from Atlanta, GA

– Laurine Wickett, a 38-year-old from Rochester, NY who currently resides in San Francisco, CA

– Mattin Noblia, a 29-year-old from Biarritz, France who currently resides in San Francisco, CA

– Michael Isabella, a 34-year-old from Little Ferry, NJ who currently resides in Washington, DC

– Michael Voltaggio, a 30-year-old from Frederick, MD who currently resides in Los Angeles, CA

– Preeti Mistry, a 33-year-old from San Francisco, CA

– Robin Leventhal, a 43-year-old from Sun Valley, ID who currently resides in Seattle, WA

– Ron Duprat, a 40-year-old from Mare Rouge, Haiti who currently resides in Hollywood, FL and Naples, FL

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The Las Vegas Home Michael Jackson Really Wanted- But Never Had

Pop singer Michael Jackson had plans to make an offer on a $16.5 million estate on Tomiyasu Lane in Las Vegas, owned by Gary and Carol Primm, his former Las Vegas real estate broker says. He was going to call his new home “Wonderland.” 

Nestled among the homes of casino owner Phil Ruffin, the Sultan of Brunei and entertainer Wayne Newton is a 10-acre compound in Las Vegas that pop singer Michael Jackson was planning to call home. 

Actually, he was planning to call the property at 7000 Tomiyasu Lane — owned by former casino mogul Gary Primm and his ex-wife, Carol — “Wonderland.” 

“He got so excited, the minute we drove through the gates here he got that feeling of Neverland,” said Zar Zanganeh, a Realtor with Fine Vegas Estates, during a tour of the home. “As soon as he stepped out of the car, he said, ‘Zar, I love this place. I’m calling it Wonderland.’” 

Jackson began eyeing the home in 2007. The King of Pop was planning to put an offer on the $16.5 million estate after his London tour was complete and his finances were flush, Zanganeh said. 

Jackson first saw the property when he was living in a 10-acre mansion on Monte Cristo Way in northwest Las Vegas — a property Zanangeh helped him lease, sight-unseen, while the entertainer was overseas after his acquittal on child sexual abuse charges.

 It was one of about 15 homes Zanganeh had shown Jackson.  But it was the only home where Jackson felt comfortable enough to walk outside with no mask or umbrella to shield him from the sun. 

He wanted to move in immediately but his finances weren’t in order to buy at the time, Zanganeh said. He approached the Primms about leasing the home — an offer they turned down. But Jackson’s interest in the house remained piqued and he stayed in regular contact with Zanganeh by phone and e-mail. 

Not long before his death, Jackson learned the Primms had lowered the price from about $22 million to $16.5 million. He told Zanganeh he was preparing to make a formal offer upon his return from England. 

Jackson died June 25 before any offers landed on the table. 

The mansion struck a chord with Jackson, who was looking for a permanent home after vowing never to return to his Neverland Ranch near Santa Ynez, Calif. The memories of the trial were too painful, and Zanganeh said Jackson on many occasions during their house hunting swore he would never return there. He saw a future in Las Vegas — he entertained the idea of a regular show on the Strip, and wanted to be able to provide stability for his children. He also wanted a home replete with strong security features. 

Security was something Gary Primm took seriously. The security features in the home start with three fierce gates — one each for the main home, the guest home and a service entrance. 

A fence surrounds the property. Secret tunnels wind throughout the home; many of the doors are bulletproof, and some are cleverly disguised as walls or cabinets to fool a possible intruder giving chase. There’s even a panic room that has its own oxygen supply and a separate, buried phone line so the wires couldn’t possibly be cut. 

Attached to the main home is a four-car garage. But it also offers what real estate agents have billed a “car museum” — in essence, a showroom large enough for 20 additional vehicles. 

The car museum has its own car wash, which uses deionized water so as not to scratch the vehicles. It also has power lifts so mechanic work can be done on site. The home has two gas stations — one for diesel, one for unleaded. 

It wasn’t just Jackson who fell in love with the estate. His children were excited at the thought of moving in, Zanganeh said. 

“The kids went nuts (when they first walked in). We keep a lot of candy in the house … Paris ran in here, ran right up to the dining room table, started eating jelly beans and said, ‘Daddy, this is like Candyland!’ which is a game they regularly played in the house. Paris loved that part of the house. Blanket just fell in love with all the animals we had in the barn.” 

The home offers an equestrian facility with eight stalls and two wash bays. It also boasts a separate “doggie villa,” which the Primms had used to house their champion Rottweilers. In the barn, there are two horses, a pony and a pig. Jackson didn’t spell out specific plans to bring additional animals, but he did ask if the pony and the pig could stay. 

A walk through the back yard of the home reveals a golf driving range, basketball and tennis courts, a greenhouse and a pool. 

If the fountains, sculptures, water slide and rock crags weren’t enough, tucked behind a waterfall inside a cave is a grotto guest suite. 

Zanganeh described the property as “something very much out of ‘The Flintstones.’” 

The secluded 1,000-square-foot living space, which has a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchenette, was going to be turned into a playhouse for the children, Zanganeh said. 

The coziness of the 15,000-square-foot home was something that appealed to Jackson — especially the dining room, which is designed to seat eight people. 

“Michael enjoyed having family time: They’d dress up for dinner, they’d sit down at the dinner table, they’d always have all the holiday dinners at the table,” Zanganeh said. “It has room for an expansion — the doors open up to an outside area for entertainment — but Michael liked the fact that although the house is very big, many of the important rooms like the bedrooms or the dining rooms still felt very intimate for a family.” 

The only space where Jackson planned for a major modification was the indoor shooting range. Guns were of little interest to him, and the space suited him for a recording studio. It even had an area for a production room and a dance floor where he could practice for auditions.

The master bedroom has a “his” and “hers” wing, with separate bathrooms and a workout gym. The “his” bathroom has its own barber chair, and the gym has a sauna and a steam shower. Both sides have walk-in closets. Amenities on the ladies’ side include a whirlpool tub, a balcony for tanning outside and a bidet. (The in-home beauty salon is downstairs by the kitchen.)

The theater room was an important room for Jackson. In other homes, he would take meals or meetings in that room or would use it to entertain, Zanganeh said.  At the Primm estate, the theater room, with seating for 16 and three screens, doubles as a cigar room. It has an extensive ventilation system and fresh oxygen pumped in.

Jackson was also drawn to the neighborhood. Zanganeh said Jackson was concerned about who his neighbors might be. On Tomiyasu Lane, he was comforted by the fact that he had already formed relationships with several residents who lived nearby.

“Every time we went around, Michael wanted to know who the neighbors were, what they do for a living. In this neighborhood, he knew many of the neighbors. He’s friends with the Sultan of Brunei, who built the home next door. He knows Wayne Newton, who has a property around the corner,” Zanganeh said. “It’s a nice, secluded neighborhood. Very private. Everyone is very low key. But it’s a very high net worth community.”

Jackson lived in several leased homes in and around Las Vegas before his death. He spent time at a Pahrump home last summer. He was rumored to be planning a show in Las Vegas at major Strip properties, but those rumors were squelched with the announcement of Jackson’s London tour.

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Dine Way, Way Up in the Las Vegas Sky- No Walls!

Las Vegas always loves hosting the unique, out of the ordinary experiences – even crazy stuff – for our visitors and Las Vegans like.  Now Las Vegas fun doesn’t have to stop before dinner, but can continue all the way through it- way, way up in the sky! DinnerInTheSky

An unforgettable dining experience is being offered by Dinner in the Sky at 2800 West Sahara Ave. in Las Vegas, where 22 dinner guests dine suspended over 160-180 feet in the Las Vegas air!  The guests sit comfortably at a Sky Table, dining on fine food prepared by Sky Chefs while enjoying spectacular views of the Las Vegas valley and skyline. 

Twenty-two Formula One race car style seats with five-point harnesses are affixed to the perimeter of a 17-foot-by-30-foot platform. Diners take their seats and a “Sky Chef” and three “Sky Waiters,” who assist in the final food preparation and serving of dishes such as “Sky-High Chicken” or “Over-the-Top Filet,” stand in the middle of the platform. 

Chefs prepare and serve the food in the air. Diners have no floor beneath them, though they do have foot rests. Diners can also turn their seats 180 degrees. 

The five-star dining experience happens by the use of a 250-ton, hydraulic, telescoping crane that reaches up to 183 feet into the air, smooth as riding on an elevator. The platform and seats weigh seven tons, are held by eight cables and need a really strong wind to make it scarier than exhilarating– the entire apparatus is rated to be safe in winds up to 35 mph. 

Dinner in the Sky, open from 3 p.m to midnight six nights a week, costs from $200 to $500 per person. It is costlier if, for instance, diners wanted to take their “flight” — term for going for a sky-high dinner — during sunset. 

Each dinner guest is always treated to extra special VIP treatment.  They offer pick up and drop off at your hotel, a red carpet reception, complimentary photography and access to the Sky Lounge, a fun and festive place to party down or just relax before and after your flight. 

The lofty dining idea was first conceived in Belgium, but now has spread to Canada, China, and more than a dozen other countries around the world.  

Las Vegas was the first and still is – for now – the only place in the U.S. to experience the unique dining experience.

Now the high-hanging gastronomical business wants to expand and open a new Las Vegas location smack dab on the Las Vegas Strip in the burned-out remains of the Trump building sales office across the street from the Wynn properties, just north of Fashion Show Mall.  

Obviously, his neighbor, casino mogul Steve Wynn is not at all hep into the idea, thinking it will draw people away from his current Wynn and Encore Las Vegas establishments. 

Terry Murphy, who spoke on behalf of Wynn Resorts at the July 21 Planning Commission meeting, said “this is just not acceptable in terms of what the Wynn is asking for in their neighborhood.” Wynn Resorts complained that Dinner in the Sky is a “carnival-like attraction.” 

The owner of Dinner in the Sky chuckled at the “carnival” characterization. 

This Wednesday, August 19 the Clark County Commission will review the proposal. 

The owner says that if he can move to the Strip, he expects the number of Dinner in the Sky employees to increase from 15 now to about 80 by the end of the year.

He also says Steve Wynn will be pleasantly surprised once he sees it up and running. 

“We’ll have patrons who will pay $200 to $500 per person, and those are the kind of people you’d think he would want to visit his hotel across the street,” he said.

For more information or reservations, please call 702.257.7303 or 1-877-4SKYDINE or visit http://www.dinnerintheskylv.com/

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