Beyond Nicole Grimes’ cherubic grin lies an East Coast toughness—a significant asset in managing employees who are, in some cases, more than twice her age. “I like to speak to people the way I like to be spoken to,” says Grimes, Rao’s chef de cuisine, who cut her teeth at the Caesars Palace Italian eatery under former executive chef Carla Pellegrino, another strong-willed woman with East Coast ties.
Grimes is just 26, yet she’s already been entrusted with overseeing one of the Strip’s most successful restaurants. She grew up outside Pittsburgh, where she would wake up early to catch Julia Child on PBS, later attending that city’s Le Cordon Bleu. Grimes landed an externship at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs before arriving in Vegas in 2006 to help open Rao’s.
Regarding the familial recipes that have made Rao’s famous, Grimes says she’s “trying to carry on the traditions from New York on a larger scale.” Since taking over, she has tweaked the dishes to align them more with their counterparts at the original Harlem location, providing her clientele with a more authentic Rao’s dining experience. And she’s not fixated on becoming executive chef, either, having already declined an offer from Rao’s co-owner Frankie Pellegrino.
“[Executive chef] seems like such a big word. If what I do now works, why fix it? It’s not broken,” Grimes says with a modesty that should serve her well in what looks to be a bright culinary future.