LAS VEGAS (MainStreet) -- Some of the world's greatest chefs descended on the red carpet at Aria Las Vegas on Oct. 21 to celebrate the Food & Wine All Star Weekend, and TravelsinTaste was invited not just to savor the weekend, but -- with a select group of food and travel writers -- to exclusive, interactive and behind-the-scenes experiences with such notable chefs and restaurateurs as Masa Takayama, Sirio Maccioni, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Michael Mina and more.

The weekend began for us with an intimate cocktail party in one of Aria's AAA Five Diamond Sky Suites with specially made limoncello flights by Sirio Ristorante Executive Chef  Vincenzo Scarmiglia. For those not inclined to alcohol, Jean Georges Steakhouse's Mixologist Darren West created homemade syrups and sodas. Sirio Maccioni, one of the world's most celebrated restaurateurs, regaled guests with stories of his famous Le Cirque.

Immediately afterward, chef/creator Masa Takayama prepared our group's private dinner at Aria's Bar Masa. The maestro himself prepared and served a seven-course tasting menu complete with wine pairings, including toro tartare with caviar and uni risotto with white truffle. Pairings included an exclusive sake, Matsunoi "Wishing Well" Tokubetsu Junmai from Niigata.
Sam Talbot, Anthony Giglio, Angelo Sosa, Gail Simmons, Hosea Rosenberg and Stephanie Izard gather Oct. 21 for the magazine's All Star Weekend in Las Vegas.

Takayama, arguably the world's most famous sushi chef, has humble roots. Before he was a master chef, he worked in his parents' fish shop, loading fish and delivering sashimi. The experience has helped earned him his three Michelin stars. "I try to bring Japanese old style cuisine into today's new style cuisine," he says. "That's my passion."

After dinner we watched the red carpet arrival in the Aria lobby. Awash in celebrity chefs, former Top Chef "cheftestants" and foodies alike, the fun didn't stop there. Gail Simmons and Anthony Giglio hosted the kickoff Party at the Aria View Bar, after which the guests moved to an All-Star Nightcap at Union Restaurant & Lounge complete with entertainment, cocktails and desserts from Yigit Pura, winner of Top Chef Just Desserts.

Saturday morning embraced decadence, starting with steaks by Vongerichten and Chef Robert Moore in the kitchen of Jean Georges Steakhouse, where we enjoyed Angus 300 Australian tomahawk chop over smoking coals with black truffle and comte cheese fritters.

Then Mina invited us into his kitchen at American Fish and educated us about his four types of preparations: poached in ocean water, grilled over cast iron, baked in sea salt and wood-grilled and smoked. Since he's cooked for many White House residents, we decided to see if he hones his skills at his house. Sure enough he does. "I like to cook with my family," he says. "Usually it's cooking on the fire, wood burning -- it's more of a style of cooking, and that's what I like to do." The heat was so great we had to get out of the kitchen, but we were glad we did when we sampled his salt-baked branzino and blue prawn and wood fire-grilled Kobe ribcap.

Chef Shawn McClain, with Season 4 Top Chef winner Chef Stephanie Izard and Giglio, a sommelier, hosted A New American Lunch at  Sage, complete with wine pairings with a kicker of absinthe during the final course. (Sage has one of Vegas' largest "newly legalized" Absinthe collections.)

The day didn't end there, as we savored authentic Thai fare in a private dining room at Executive Chef Krairit Krairavee's Lemongrass, the first Thai restaurant on The Strip. Its spices and sauces come directly from Bangkok, his homeland, and we savored a truly authentic pad thai amid silk factory decor.

The All-Star Tasting, one of the weekend's highlights, took place poolside and featured Simmons, Pura, Izard, Johnny Iuzzini, Hosea Rosenberg, Angelo Sosa and Sam Talbot in addition to chefs Moore, Vongerichten, Scarmiglia, Julian Serrano, McClain, Jean-Philippe Maury and Pierre Gagnaire's team at Twist.

While the majority of the guests were wrapping up the festivities with a champagne and caviar brunch at Bellagio's Jasmine, overlooking spectacular dancing water fountains, hosted by Giglio, our group was treated to a private experience with Serrano at his eponymous restaurant for some of his unrivaled tapas, including tuna-raspberry and lobster-pineapple skewers, stuffed piquillo peppers, huevos estrellados and his traditional Spanish chicken croquets -- which only one person in his kitchen makes. Does this person have life insurance? Better yet, do all of these fabulous chefs have it? We hope so!

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