by Marsala Rypka
Julia Child co-founded the James Beard Foundation in 1985 after the food connoisseur, teacher and cookbook author known as the Dean of American Cuisine died. Beard’s legacy lives on through the acclaimed chefs who are invited to come to New York and prepare dinner for the public in his historic 1899 Greenwich Village brownstone.
The seven-person culinary team at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino recently joined the prestigious list of chefs when they prepared an incredible six-course Valentine’s Day dinner, paired with wines from a private collection, at the James Beard House.
Getting there took months of strategic planning and two practice runs. Ninety days out, the team, headed by Westgate vice president of food and beverage Charles Wilson, re-created everything from the day of the event backward, leaving nothing to chance.
Three weeks before, they shipped all nonperishables, including dishes, utensils and cooking equipment. A week before, they shipped 132 bottles of wine.
But some things were out of their control, like a huge snowstorm that hit New York the weekend before Valentine’s Day causing flights to be cancelled and gridlock on the streets.
“We just sent 40 large boxes of Cryovac’d food packed in dry ice and Styrofoam the Friday before. We were terrified it wouldn’t get there in time,” said chef Steve Young.
“We were at the airport on Sunday when we got word everything arrived, and we all breathed a sigh of relief,” said Wilson.
Everyone wanted things to be perfect,” said pastry chef Stephen Sullivan, who carried a sheet pan with 94 fragile tuile cookies on board.
Once we got to New York, the next challenge was having all of us in a kitchen the size of my produce refrigerator at the Westgate preparing six plated appetizers, four main courses and a dessert,” said chef Michael McNeilly, who praised Sullivan for being his support person.
“There was only space to plate 24 dishes at a time, and we had 86 guests, but the energy was electrifying and everything went smoothly,” said Young, who credits sous chef Lynn Breen with being his right hand. Shaun Morales, manager of fine dining at the Westgate, facilitated the front of the house wine service and course timeline of hors d’oeuvres that included salmon belly crudo, porcini mushroom bisque, bone marrow flatbread, Beausoleil oysters, fennel sausage and pepper arancini, and grilled lamb chop peperonata followed by a first course of baby beet salad with pistachio burrata cheese and watercress; a second course of sea scallops with cannellini bean, kale and winter truffle; a third course of sunchoke agnolotti, trumpet royals, Parmesan and micro sorrel; a fourth course of Mishima Reserve strip loin and ribs, potato puree, creamed Swiss chard and bordelaise; and a fifth course duo dessert of chilled winter fruit soup with calamansi sorbet, mandarin tuile and chocolate-covered passion fruit-banana mousse with pecan brittle.
“Nothing prepared me for such a magical experience,” said Morales.
“The staff at the James Beard House praised us for being such a prepared team whose food and execution was flawless,” Wilson said proudly.
“When you say the James Beard House, you think of chefs from Bellagio, Wynn or Caesars,” said TaChelle Lawson, director of food and beverage marketing, “but our chefs at the Westgate have impressive resumes. We are all intent on bringing prestige to our property, and our team just hit a home run.”