My brother is a professional chef, and as is true with most siblings we have a competitive fraternal instinct to outdo each other at most things we try our hands at. Once he started working at Michelin-starred restaurants, the game was lost and I was destined to trail futilely in his ever-more-distant wake.
Nonetheless, the spirit of competition still drives me on to cook ever-more-complex lasagnas, succulent pork chops with buttery peppered mash and rich red wine jus and my personal favourite, duck à l'orange with all the trimmings.
Duck-fat roasted potatoes, salted and crisped to perfection, roasted swede and turnip, honey-roasted parsnips, beans boiled till they reach the ideal texture, neither too firm nor too limp, then coated in rich butter and lemon sauce, a perfect sweet-and-sour blend of orange and duck gravy, and of course an exquisitely cooked duck, scrunchy, skin that is crisp to the bite and soft, tender, but not overcooked flesh lurking moistly beneath the surface.
I own up to the fact that my creations don't always reach the lofty ideals described there. Indeed I have been known to pull a blackened and charred unidentifiable husk out of the oven, waving away thick, impenetrable, black clouds of smoke to a cacophony of coughing while wondering if the girl who was to be the subject of my amorous advances would be equally impressed with a can of lager and a no. 35 from the local Indian takeaway as with my promised claims of a candlelit dinner of delicious poussin [Ed.: very young chicken, for those of you without a chef brother] and a few glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon.
The search for culinary perfection is one that is so rewarding it never seems a struggle to push on and find ever-more-exotic ingredients, dishes from increasingly far-flung cultures and strange and unusual combinations of more familiar ingredients, to blend and cook in such a unique fashion that they yield an entirely original dish that surprises and entertains the palate. In that respect, Vegas delivers, and it does so with aplomb.
It shares with London a tradition of being an epicentre for a variety of different cultures and this is reflected in the food. Mexican food, Chinese food, Indian food, food from North and South America, barbecued food, buffet food, fast food, slow food, good food, bad food, cheap food, expensive food - if it weren't for the fact that the F button on my keyboard is about to fall off, I could go on.
It's beyond the scope of this article to do a comprehensive study of Vegas food - that may have to wait - but I want to focus in on a couple of the more unusual aspects of the cuisine here that have attracted my interest and attention.
First off we have barbecued food.
This is not unique to Vegas. Back in the U.K. on the odd occasion the clouds disappear fleetingly and the sun deigns to shower us with a few of its precious rays, every man and his dog in England quickly rushes down to the cellar, blows the inch-thick layer of dust off his rusting barbecue equipment, throws a load of rat-gnawed coal, scrunched-up newspaper and cheap sausages onto it, bungs in a match and before you know it you have a string of half-raw sausages winging their way into the nearest bap [Ed.: soft yeast roll with a characteristic floury finish] to be liberally doused in ketchup and consumed.
Often of course these fiascos culminate in a trip to Emergency to have salmonella, E. coli and various other toxins found in undercooked meat forcibly pumped out of the stomach, but our lack of refined technique isn't our fault. It's just because we are denied the opportunity to get much practice in by our depressingly inclement weather conditions.
Americans in Vegas, with their blisteringly hot weather, have no such excuse for ineptitude, however, and indeed the barbecue is held in high regard here, with many a southerner critiquing a particular barbecued steak with all the razor-sharp insight of a Frenchman discussing cheese, or a German discussing beer.
Barbecue is truly regarded as an art form and as such there is always a large range of tasty items available from the various BBQ houses dotted around.
Just to pluck one item I have tried so far that confounded my expectations. Dill pickles. Gherkins. Generally found in burgers, I quite like eating them whole out of pickle jars. Sometimes requested by pregnant women, to consume with ice cream.
One way the local BBQ houses serve them which I have never seen before is to deep-fry them in batter. Bizarre thought I, but after fellow PL.com reporter Jason Kirk recommended them, and with that ingrained sense of the culinary pioneer driving me on, I gave it a shot and ordered them off the menu along with the local dipping sauce (some sort of ranch/mayonnaise-y type combination).
Once the waiter had delivered a bowl of them to the table, I picked one up curiously, raised it to my lips and bit into the crispy outer shell. A short message delivered from taste bud to synapse later (something along the lines of "Oh yeh, that's what ah'm talking about. That there pickle's DAAAMN good") and I was greedily wolfing the rest of them with gay abandon.
After I stopped eating and had time to reflect, I experienced that pleasantly joyous feeling that can only come when you discover something that is not only new but clearly awesome. I am a convert to deep-fried pickles as I'm sure you can tell.
Though this has only touched the very end of a long icicle set upon an enormous iceberg of foods available in Vegas, I feel the need to stop now, not least because all this talk of food has my mouth salivating and my stomach growling ominously.
So before my small intestines climb out of my mouth and wander off to order some pancakes from room service, I will end this piece for now, and pick up the reins at a later date (provided I'm not too busy eating deep-fried pickles).