With less than a month to go before Life Is Beautiful, I’m already starting to get hungry. Food has always been a major component of the event (which is owned by Vegas Seven publishing company, WENDOH Media), happening September 25-27 in Downtown. But while celebrity chefs have garnered most of the attention at the past two festivals, the emphasis this year seems to be on neighborhood establishments that can provide a taste of Las Vegas’ diverse culinary offerings (for more on that, check here). I recently chatted with a few of those chefs and restaurateurs, two of whom will be making their first appearance this year and one who will be returning for the second time, to find out what we should expect from them, and what they’re expecting of the festival.
With its location just outside the festival grounds, Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whisky will likely become a popular spot for concertgoers entering and exiting. But executive chef Ricardo Romo isn’t content with that. So he’s heading inside the footprint to serve the masses as they enjoy the shows. But he recognizes the challenges of operating in that environment. “I’m not trying to go crazy on this first time,” he says. “I’m trying to do it successful and do it right.”
“I have a feeling I’m gonna be knee-deep in teriyaki bowls.” – Executive chef Ricardo Romo of Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whisky
You won’t be able to get the restaurant’s namesake ramen. Instead, he’ll offer a pair of rice bowls: chicken and vegetable teriyaki. Since much of his staff will be confined to the main restaurant, Romo reached out to UNLV’s culinary department to supply him with help. “It’s a way to give back to the community a little bit,” he says. As for taking in some of the performances, Romo’s hopeful everyone will get to enjoy some music while they cook, but, he says, “I have a feeling I’m gonna be knee-deep in teriyaki bowls.”
Another Downtown newcomer preparing for its inaugural Life Is Beautiful appearance is the vegan hot spot VegeNation. And like Romo, chef Donald Lemperle plans to keep it simple while he gets his footing in the concert environment—he’ll only offer two cold dishes. The first will be his signature Save the Tuna, a vegetable sushi roll made with black forbidden rice. As for the second item, he’s still undecided, although he’s leaning toward black bean hummus with tortilla chips. And if newcomers to the restaurant like what they try, Lemperle adds, he’ll keep his main location open late so they can get hot dishes on their way home.
While VegeNation’s booth location within the festival footprint has yet to been confirmed, he says his employees clearly have a preference, hoping to be within sight of the main stage. “The staff’s all excited,” he says, laughing. “They all think they’re gonna go see Stevie Wonder.”
Wonder is also on the wish list of staff at returning bakery Gimme Some Sugar, at least according to owner Kristen LoVullo. “I think most people are excited to see him,” she says. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of a thing [for us]. We never got that opportunity, because almost everyone who works in my shop is under the age of 30.”
Since her shop is located in Henderson, LoVullo isn’t as connected with Downtown as Romo and Lemperle. That’s exactly why she wanted to return for her second year. “This brings us to a gathering place,” LoVullo says. “We don’t see a lot of the Summerlin or North Las Vegas clientele. So it’s nice for us to be able to go to a kind of hub and interact, meet new people, and introduce our products to people who normally wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.”
LoVullo says the festival poses unique challenges for a dessert shop, challenges she encountered firsthand last year. “For us, everything has to be made ahead of time. It’s a little bit different than a savory [restaurant]. We have to have everything done in advance. So trying to gauge the numbers was definitely a challenge. We were right on with some things, and we were way off on others.”
For when your sweet tooth cries out at this year’s concert, the chef and her team are preparing oversize macarons, sugar and chocolate chip cookies, and strawberry shortcakes. So be sure to save room for dessert.