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Part Three: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

It's not named that way anymore, but going on its fifth year at the Big Smoke, Charlie Palmer's gourmet meal is still a real man's breakfast -- even for the ladies in attendance. The event is for those guests who go full tilt for two days and can still get up at 9:30 a.m. for the third to enjoy a hearty breakfast courtesy of one of the country's best restaurateurs. This year, there was something extra on the menu. The diehard New York Giants fan/chef was going to put on a cooking display.

The audience moved sluggishly into the ballroom at first, still reeling from late-night adventures that probably ended a few hours before the start of the seminar. They perked up when they sat down at one of the long banquet tables and were greeted with a Chopin Vodka Bloody Mary and two premium cigars: a Montecristo White No. 2 and a Bolivar Lonsdale. Hair of the dog, as they say.

Donning his white chef's coat, Palmer stood on stage at the front of the room flanked by two huge video screens. In front of him was a large table where two skillets were perched atop two burners with a huge fishbowl set in between. Submerged within the bowl was a book around which swam a goldfish.

The book in the bowl was Charlie Palmer's Practical Guide to the New American Kitchen, a new cookbook with an approach to food that bespeaks of its author. "It's a no-nonsense, manageable guide to cooking," said Palmer. Apparently, it's also the only waterproof cookbook on the market, so don't worry about getting it dirty. The fish was not nearly as close to Charlie's heart.

"Let's get the ground rules straight," said Palmer. "If the fish dies during the presentation, we saute him. I am an animal lover, but I like them in a pan too," he said.

With that, the meaty meal was served. Knives and forks clinked on plates as guests eagerly dug into a colorful feast of poached eggs in brioche topped with a creamy smoked paprika hollandaise sauce, next to a sizzling seared cut of sirloin over a leek and tomato hash, which was garnished with smoked sea salt.

Plates were soon cleared and Palmer's presentation was about to begin. The recipes he was demonstrating were taken from the book and touched on a question asked by a guest of last year's seminar: how do you cook steak at home in a pan so it tastes like it does at a steak house? Palmer not only demonstrated his approach to searing steak, but also showed attendees a recipe for searing chicken.

He went about the task step-by-step as viewers puffed on cigars and watched close-ups on the big screens of Palmer's hands in action. As he cooked, he gave bits of advice. He espoused purchasing meat and poultry from a butcher rather than a supermarket and stressed the importance of preparation. First, he cut a thick piece of meat from a giant tenderloin brought out by his assistant and trimmed some of the fat. Make sure the pan is heavy-bottomed and really hot before putting the steak in, he said. Salt and pepper the meat right before placing it in the pan and use grapeseed oil or sunflower oil as a lubricant. Olive oil is a no-no. For the chicken breasts, he patted the bird dry first because of the excess water that tends to be inside. Before cooking the chicken, he seasoned it with salt and pepper, smoked paprika, smoked sea salt and ground dried pepper. He then placed the pieces in a medium hot pan with the skin side down, which he said produces a crackling effect and also renders the fat into the pan for flavor.

Palmer finished the demo and answered audience questions. The discussion focused mostly -- big surprise -- on meat: dry aging versus wet aging, how best to judge when a piece of steak is ready, and even how to cook nontraditional meats such as venison, elk and, in one case, bear meat.

Audience members were given a copy of Palmer's book to take home. After a round of applause, many lined up to get their books signed by the chef, then rushed over to the adjacent ballroom hosting the Roll Your Own event, which was just getting under way.

Source: Cigar Aficionado