Bobby Flay is making his presence known at the Mohegan Sun
Incentive groups visiting gaming destinations have a growing number of ways to enjoy their
food-and-beverage events with a celebrity twist. With new
celebrity chef restaurants and hotels opening, and a wide range
of culinary speakers and demos available, attendees have more options than ever to taste the
work of "Top Chefs," "Iron Chefs," "Master Chefs," and more.
Booking a Chef
Of course, hiring a celebrity chef to take part in an incentive
event can get expensive. Booking site Chef2Chef puts its
minimum celebrity chef fee at $10,000, and booking a chef like
Emeril Lagasse or Mario Batali could eat up the entire budget
for an incentive trip several times over. But planners can
incorporate winners and contestants of hit shows like "Iron
Chef America" and "Chopped" to give attendees a taste of the
programs they know without breaking the bank.
"You may not have Tom Colicchio, but there are several
restaurants in Vegas where 'Top Chef' contestants from various
seasons do work and offer cooking demonstrations and
interactions," says Stephanie Arone, president and general
manager of Las Vegas-based DMC Activity Planners.
Arone adds that the openings of two Gordon Ramsay restaurants in Las Vegas has created the
possibility that contestants and winners of "Hell's Kitchen,"
if not the host himself, may be available for events and demos
for incentive groups.
Another way to defray costs is to seek out celebrity chefs
based near the gaming destination where the event will be held.
Arone recommends Las Vegas native Rick Moonen, the force behind
RM Seafood and r bar caf� at Mandalay Bay, who has a particular
interest in educating groups about sustainable seafood and
environmental responsibility in general.
Incentive planners looking to secure a celebrity chef for an in-person appearance at a gaming destination can consider reaching out to speakers
bureaus such as All American Entertainment (AAE) and IMG
Speakers. AAE's roster of celebrity chefs includes Marcus
Samuelsson, Rick Bayless, and Rocco DiSpirito.
"We encourage our clients to be creative when planning their
events," says Margo Sarlo, senior booking agent for AAE. "For
example, one celebrity chef recently hosted an interactive
farm-to-table-themed event which included an indoor farmer's
market and a cooking demonstration."
AAE has also worked with its roster of chefs to provide cooking
demos, moderated conversations, keynote speeches, cooking
camps, and meet and greets. Sarlo believes gaming destinations
are a particularly good fit for this. "In places like Las Vegas
or Atlantic City, it is important to stand out from the crowd,
so whether your goal is to generate traffic to a trade show,
sell tickets, raise awareness, or generate excitement among
your employees or customers, a key component is understanding
the target demographic and what your group is trying to
accomplish," says Sarlo.
Alex Alton, vice president of IMG Speakers, agrees that gaming
destinations make fitting destinations for incorporating
celebrity chefs, adding that they also have a built-in
"A signed cookbook offers a functional and personal takeaway," she says. "Chefs can also speak on a
variety of subject matters, including key business points such
as entrepreneurialism, branding, management, leadership, and
Las Vegas Options
Over the last decade, through a concerted effort to attract the
world's top restaurateurs and bolster its culinary offerings,
Las Vegas has built itself into a true dining destination. This has only
accelerated in the past year, with new celebrity chef
restaurants - and even a chef-branded hotel - opening or slated
to open soon.
The Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace, a boutique property of 81 rooms
including 18 luxury suites and a massive Nobu Restaurant on the
ground floor, is inspired by the design aesthetic of sushi chef
Nobuyuki Matsuhisa's numerous restaurants. The entire property
is ideal for incentive groups looking to live, eat, and even
sleep high-end dining experiences.
Another high-profile celebrity chef offering in the city is the
new Gordon Ramsay Steak from the "Hell's Kitchen" star, which
opened earlier this year at Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino,
with 274 seats and an expansive bar area. Christina Wilson,
winner of the show's 10th season, serves as head chef. The
famously ill-tempered chef will also be opening Gordon Ramsay
Pub & Grill at the Caesars Palace Coliseum at the end of
"He's one of the most recognized chefs, especially with a show
on mainstream network TV beyond even just the Food Network,"
says Arone. "Wolfgang Puck properties are also highly
successful with groups, and now you're starting to see more of
the elite chefs making their presence felt here."
In addition to the new offerings in Las Vegas, celebrity chef
mainstays are also getting a revamp. MGM Grand, home to
high-end offerings that include Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak,
Wolfgang Puck's Bar & Grill, and AAA-Five-Diamond and
Michelin-three-star restaurant Joel Robuchon, completed its
$160-million renovation of 3,570 rooms and 647 suites at the
end of September. Last year, the Tropicana secured Rao's former
executive chef Carla Pellegrino to create Italian restaurant
Bacio as part of its $180-million renovation. It has since
proven to be a hit with corporate groups.
Beyond The Strip
Celebrity chefs are invading smaller gaming destinations as
well. In September, MGM Grand in Detroit announced that it
would be introducing two new restaurants from Wolfgang Puck. At MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Mashantucket, CT,
incentive groups can build a celebrity chef dine around with
Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak, Michael Scholw's Alta Strada, and
David Burke's Prime.
At Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT, groups can now enjoy multiple
offerings from Food Network staple Bobby Flay, including the
upscale Bar Americain and more casual Bobby's Burger Palace.
Atlantic City Celebrity Cuisine
Atlantic City offers a wealth of celebrity chef choices.
"Atlantic City has really seen the value in trying to attract
visitors who have been enthralled by the surge in the Food
Network and other foodie shows on TV," says Karen Martin, media
relations manager for the Atlantic City Convention &
Groups might consider timing their incentive event to coincide with Atlantic City's annual Food
& Wine Festival, hosted each summer by Caesars
Entertainment, throughout its properties. Tour and group sales
are available for a number of experiences with celebrity chefs.
Last year, these included a lunch with Food Network personality
Anne Burrell at The Reserve at Ballys Atlantic City, a southern
dinner with Paula Deen at Showboat Atlantic City, and a baking
demo with Buddy Valastro from TLC's "Cake Boss."
Year-round, a favorite interactive venue for Atlantic City
visitors is the Viking Cooking School. Headquartered in
Harrah's Resort Atlantic City, the school offers a hands-on
kitchen that allows groups to try their luck at preparing a
meal, making it an ideal location for cooking demos or
celebrity chef events. The school also offers an extensive
retail store of Viking cookware, cutlery, and countertop
electrics that could make for excellent incentive gifts for
Atlantic City also has a vast number of celebrity chef
restaurants. Among the offerings at the newly opened Revel Atlantic City are local
favorite Luke Palladino's new Luke's Kitchen & Marketplace,
as well as Iron Chef Marc Forgione's American Cut steakhouse,
and the Mediterranean offerings of Azure by Allegretti, from chef Alain Allegretti.
At the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, visitors can dine at
Bobby Flay Steak, the "Throwdown! With Bobby Flay" host's first
steakhouse, as well as the Wolfgang Puck American Grill.
"The Borgata was probably the first [in Atlantic City] to bring
in the celebrity chefs," says Martin. "From 2006 to when Revel
opened, the presence of these chefs on TV has exploded, so it's
really the new standard for restaurants now."