Top Las Vegas chefs rally to relaunch ‘Chopped’-style contest

Al Mancini
September 14, 2017

It was born out of a weekly late-night food truck rally in a bar parking lot that became the after-work gathering place for Strip chefs looking to cut loose on Saturday nights. What started as a series of booze-fueled cooking challenges on wheels became a quest for bragging rights that meant more, in their own way, than any glowing restaurant review. After working their shifts on the Strip, chefs from big-name restaurants such as Joel Robuchon, Delmonico Steakhouse, Carnevino and Sage climbed into cramped food trucks to create dishes from a mystery basket of ingredients. Other chefs, servers and bartenders from the Strip and beyond congregated in a parking lot to socialize, drink, eat and watch them compete for temporary possession of a collectively made trophy that was celebrated more heartily than any diamond or star award from an international guidebook. From September 2011 through June 2014, Back of the House Brawls helped define Las Vegas’ fledgling underground food scene, only ending to make way for a short-lived cable TV series that mimicked its format, if not its grassroots spirit. Since their demise, many high-powered chefs have lamented the loss. “It was something that brought us all together in one spot, doing what we love to do, drink and eat,” explains former L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon chef Steve Benjamin, who now serves as executive chef at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, but maintains a home locally. “I’m pretty sad we stopped doing it.” He and other fans will not have to be sad much longer. On Sept. 16, the first in a new series of contests will be held at Chinatown’s Sparrow + Wolf, a hot, new restaurant owned by frequent Back of the House Brawl competitor Brian Howard. On six late Saturday nights between September and May, food trucks again will gather at a rotating list of locations, and between two and four chefs each night will battle it out.