September 2019


Fear of Missing Out

Chef James Trees’ of Esther’s Kitchen’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” burger.

By Jason Harris

The dictionary defines FOMO as such: anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.

It wasn’t a thing when I was a kid because technology wasn’t there yet. But we all experienced the feeling before it became definable. Becky couldn’t go to the school dance because she had to visit her cousins in Pennsylvania that weekend. Marky missed the New Kids on the Block concert because he had to go to his sister’s piano recital. You want to know why society is so screwed up? Maybe the unhealed FOMO wounds of collective youth has something to do with it.

Check it…

I’m twelve years old, growing up in Northern New Jersey. My town has an abundance of good athletes - or so it seems to 12-year-old Jewish me. We are all friends at school and compete with and against one another on the weekends in little league baseball, pee wee football, and, most importantly for me, recreation league basketball.

I wanted that basketball trophy. And I had a chance. That season, I was on the purple team and we had all the pieces. The tournament was double elimination and we somehow gave up a ten-point lead in a game sending us straight to the elimination round and bringing our team one game away from a disappointing end to an otherwise good season.

No matter, we were all confident we’d get back on track the next game which was to be played the next day - a Saturday. Why do I remember it was a Saturday all these years later?

Scheduled against my playoff game - my elimination game! - was a family friend’s Bat Mitzvah in New York City. My parents, preaching the value of friendship and loyalty, demanded I go to that Bat Mitzvah.

“How did the game go?” I wondered as I sat through a Haf Torah portion that meant not nearly as much as a solid inside / outside game to me. I soon found out. It was a close battle through and through. We were down by one point in the final seconds and Jeff Lui put up a shot from behind half court. The ball hit the rim and we lost by one. We were that close.

I can’t tell you anything relevant about the Bat Mitzvah except, more than two decades later, I still live the pain of my season on the brink.

We all have a story like this, because let’s face it, most of our parents make huge mistakes along the way. Fear of missing out is a strong force.

And that brings us to Jolene Mannina, the culinary queen of capitalizing on FOMO. When last we covered her, she was in the middle of throwing her late night chef battles outside the T-Mobile Arena. The Back of House Brawl (BOHB) was / is the Las Vegas food industry’s late night rowdy get together, all wrapped around chefs competing against each other in food truck wars.

Those events feature a who’s who of the Sin City culinary scene, most of whom are just spectators. FOMO.

Mannina has now taken her ability to capitalize on the fear of missing out to the next level with her latest project, secretburger.com. She admits, “We’re selling FOMO at the end of the day. This is an exclusive dish for one day only and it is in limited amounts.”

The way it works is simple. Mannina, through the secretburger website, announces pop up events at existing restaurants. Only, for the most part, these popups are more about the chefs who already helm the eateries creating something off menu for their guests in a specified time period rather than someone else taking over that person’s kitchen for the evening. Patrons buy tickets on the site and simply show their receipt when attending.

The first secretburger event I ventured to was on May 4 at Meraki Greek Grill (covered last issue as a local gem) where the chefs concocted a Greek fried chicken sandwich that was a perfect bite to announce the impending arrival of summer. On the secretburger website, it was advertised as such:

Have you ever seen fried chicken on the menu at Meráki Greek Grill? The answer is NO

Chef Niko wanted to come strong with his first SecretBuger dish so he’s going off brand to serve a Fried Chicken Sandwich.

The “Niko’s” Fried Chicken Sandwich is made with an all natural, oregano crusted chicken breast. It’s topped with Aegean slaw, spicy “Granch” dressing on a grilled brioche bun with a side of half sour pickles and hand cut taverna fries.

We just tested out the dish and it’s delicious!! Only 50 available for SecretBurger.

Get it while it lasts. These are dishes you try, and you wonder why they don’t put them on the menu full-time, whether it’s the chicken fried Juicy Lucy from The Goodwich or the falafel platter at Rooster Boy Cafe.

The idea is catching on. Secretburger has thrown events in New York City, Miami, Phoenix, and Spokane, among others. Mannina is excited about focusing on new cities and seeing where it sparks, like it has in Spokane, Washington.

There are secretburger events that are more ambitious than just a dish. Khai Vu, the most well-known Vietnamese chef / restauranteur in Las Vegas, hosted a “Feast of Friends” at his Chinatown outpost, MORDEO Boutique Wine Bar, which featured ten courses with three chefs, two butchers, and a farmer, all based around wagyu beef. He also moved his operation over to the hip, off-Strip bar Starboard Tack on July 4, where he served his version of the Filipino feast, kamayan.

October 6 will be secretburger’s biggest event to date with Picnic in The Alley, which the website calls, “A Boutique Epicurean event designed by All the Women for EVERYONE!”

Mannina explains “It’s 100% designed and executed by women in Las Vegas. So, everything from the organizers, production, graphic design, photography, videography, chefs and mixologists — every piece is being produced and curated by women. It’s been an absolute delight putting it together.”

Participating chefs and restauranteurs include Gina Marinelli of La Strega, Jamie Tran of The Black Sheep and Elizabeth Blau of Honey Salt and Andiron Steak & Sea, Sonia Steele of Ada’s, The Dylag Sisters from Velveteen Rabbit, and Danielle Crouch of Jammyland are some of the ladies leading the beverage program.

Mannina sees the event going like this, “You walk in and get a picnic basket with plates and cups and napkins, and as you walk around the event, chefs will be preparing food in little to go boxes so you can take it and put it into your basket. Get a couple of different things and then actually sit down and enjoy it. We’re trying to add a little of those relaxing moments while you’re eating.”

I’m already sold.

She continues. “The setting is really beautiful (The Alley at Fergusons Downtown). It will be really bohemian with lots of flowers. There will be a chat room with noodles and beer and chefs talking on panels. We’ll have live art, live murals, and art installations. There’s live music. It’s about creating a vibe.” It’s about not wanting to miss out.

I’ll be there and to many other secretburger events…as long as they aren’t catering any Bat Mitzvahs.

Chef Todd Harrington and Jolene Mannina admire his #OffTheMenu Piggie Smalls Sandwich at Honey Salt.

Photograph by: Angela Ortaliza

Chef Niko of Meráki Grill presents his fried chicken sandwich.

Photograph by: Jose Salinas

Chef Sonia El-Nawal of Rooster Boy Cafe with her falafel platter.

Photograph by: Jose Salinas

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