photos by Daniel Clough & Hew Burney

On May 11th Eric Gladstone of The Feast of Friends, and Erica Bell of I Make You Look Good Productions (IMYLG) hosted Vegas UnStripped, a gathering of nineteen local chefs, to share their culinary prowess with Las Vegas locals and visitors alike in the Arts District downtown. 

“You won't find a better party than Vegas UnStripped anywhere in Las Vegas!” ~ Chef Brian Howard, Sparrow + Wolf

There's a mantra in the air at Vegas UnStripped with a healing message: As any of the chefs here tonight will explain, working ‘off-the-Strip’ may not receive the same attention as ‘on-the-Strip’ and not enough visitors or locals, for that matter, are aware of the outstanding ‘off-Strip’ restaurants Las Vegas has to offer. Their collective mission is to change that. 

“WITHOUT Eric Gladstone, all of this wouldn't be possible!” ~ Chef James Trees, Esther's Kitchen

Chef Trees expressed his gratitude after hosting some 600 people in the backyard of Esther's Kitchen for a hometown food festival, proclaiming they would never be where they are today without our locals. I asked Chef Trees how being 'off-the-Strip' makes his restaurant stand out.

“It's our ability to make our own decisions based on what we feel is best ... sometimes putting people before profits,” he said. “We have a great time taking care of our neighborhood and all of its residents.” These are heartfelt sentiments. 

Chef Ralph Perrazzo of bBd's takes honor in being off-Strip. “We pride ourselves on the immaculate focus of quality product, as opposed to cost and other decision-making factors prevalent in the on-Strip restaurant scene,” he said. “Our personal relationships with breweries have allowed us to serve some of the highest quality, exclusive and hard-to-find craft beers in the country. Being off-Strip allows us to be independent and have control over every aspect of our concept.” Chef Perrazzo is passionate. “Food brings people together … one of the many reasons why I love being a chef." Another passion is butchering: bBd’s has a world-class butcher room where they break down and process all of the prime beef and proteins served in the restaurant. 

Chef Jamie Tran of Black Sheep speaks with compassion. “I always wanted to open a restaurant where I can give opportunity to people who have been considered the underdog. I was myself always the underdog.” Her dedication is strong. “From the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, all I think about is how I can make a dish better than the next. How can I push myself to create a memory for my guests through my food? As chef, our dishes are an expression of ourselves.” Her message is, “To any future chef out there: Don't be afraid of taking risk. Know your worth and just go for your dreams.” Chef Tran, you're an inspiration!

Chopped winner, Chef Johnny Church, is all about Vegas. “I'm doing consulting and will be opening my own restaurant.”  Chef, we’re looking forward to it! 

Eight bars were also in attendance. Christina Dylag, owner of Velveteen Rabbit said, “I’m all about challenging the social norms … Velveteen Rabbit, for me, was a space designed for freedom of expression.” I adored their mezcal treat called “Butcherette,” which is named lovingly after the female-fronted Mexican garage punk band, Le Butcherettes.

Vegas UnStripped partnered with Caridad, a nonprofit organization whose vision is to end unsheltered homelessness. It's part of tonight's healing mantra. I spoke to Merideth Spriggs, the founder of Caridad, and learned some things that may surprise you. 

Merideth was the most unlikely person to become homeless. In 2004, she received a Masters of Divinity from Nazarene Theological Seminary. Then, in October of 2008, she tragically found herself living out of her car. “If it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone,” she proclaimed without fear of prejudice. Merideth conveyed honest compassion and an ability to bring back one's sense of dignity. I came away with the lingering glow of having spent time with someone truly special. 

The sellout crowd was treated to a smorgasbord of delights from all nineteen chefs. The open pit fires, brazier barbecues, blow torches and open ice displays—every detail on the offerings—was remarkably vivid. Chef Trees offered a Gnocco Fritto (a hollow fried dough) with a saffron burrata, dungeness crab, caviar and chives. Chef Jamie Tran served Ahi Tuna Crudo with shaved black radish, crispy lotus chips, horseradish cream, ponzu gelée and finished with a tangerine gazpacho. I wish I could describe every chef's dish, but I can tell you this: There was escargot, quail, ostrich tenderloins, roasted lamb and seared foie gras to name just some of the exotic fare. 

If you missed it this year, there will be a round three!