Celebrity chef headlines weekend food festival

Trisha Leonard
Harrah's/Harveys Lake Tahoe sous chef Jim Oglesby prepares blackened shrimp with salsa Thursday in the kitchen at Harrah's.
Trisha Leonard / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

Harrah’s/Harveys Lake Tahoe sous chef Jim Oglesby was busy in the kitchen Thursday afternoon as he began preparing for this weekend’s South Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival.

Now in its fourth year, the event will feature chefs from the western division of Harrah’s, as well as celebrity chef Robert Irvine from the Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible.”

Though the event was held in October last year, Lauren Evison, director of food operations at Harrah’s/Harveys Lake Tahoe, said the event was pushed to this weekend to accommodate Irvine’s schedule. That change has paid off, as the “Grand Market — Beyond the Fork” and the dinners with Robert Irvine have already sold out, she said.

“People are looking for that celebrity name,” Evison said. “For the last two years we didn’t have so much of that focus, but we’re getting back to that.”

John Packer, director of Entertainment & Public Relations for Harrah’s/Harveys Lake Tahoe, agreed.

“Focusing Saturday on one big name seems to be the way to go,” he said.

Those who are interested in attending the Grand Market still can call the box office Saturday about 11 a.m. to see if there have been any ticket cancellations, Evison said.

However, tickets still are available for “Ultimate Tailgate: Blues, Brews and BBQ hosted by Robert Irvine” on Sunday. That event is aimed at drawing different types of people to the festival, she said.

“We want to get a wider audience,” she said. “We used to have a Sunday brunch on the 19th floor, but it was too elegant and drew a small crowd. Historically, people leave Sundays, but we thought with football, this would be a way to get them to stick around for a couple hours before leaving.”

Andy Lorusso, aka “The Singing Chef,” and chef Rocky Fino, author of “Will Cook for Sex: A Guy’s Guide to Cooking” also are scheduled to make appearances at the Grand Market, which will feature a dozen wine stations, seven liquor stations and a variety of food booths that will offer samples from various chefs. This year’s offerings will include blackened shrimp, sushi, chicken, beef, oysters, scallops and veal. Lorusso will cook Italian food his mother taught him to make, and will provide samples to audience members. Fino will prepare a type of breakfast food involving seafood.

Harrah’s/Harveys brought in 200 pounds of shrimp for Oglesby to use for his dish. He said it would make about 2,700 samples.

“There’s something for everyone,” Evison said.

Planning for this year’s event started in February, which allowed organizers to begin publicizing the event sooner, Evison said. Retail business for the festival is up 5 percent over last year, she said.

“An event like this is all hands on deck,” Packer said. “The dealers wear ribbons to promote it and it’s a group effort to execute it well.”

Once the event is over, organizers will make a $1,000 donation to South Shore charity. The amount will either be given to one charity or split into $500 for two charities, Evison said.

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