Chef Carla Pellegrino’s love at first sight with L.V., new restaurant, cookbook
Thu, Aug 30, 2012 (3:24 p.m.)
First of all, I would like to thank my friend Robin Leach for this wonderful opportunity of being him for a day -- I’m so excited! Who would think that six years ago when I met him for the first time, at Rao’s in Caesars Palace, that we would become good friends. Love at first sight!
Robin moved immediately to my good side when he showed me his patience and willingness to understand my accent -- not an easy task. In return and to signal my gratitude, I never hesitate going right into my kitchen to cook his favorites vegetarian dishes and spoil him whenever he comes by my restaurants.
Seeing Robin is always a genuine pleasure for me. Thanks for having me as your guest columnist in the middle of 2012 Fall Las Vegas Restaurant Week and while you are in New York for two days.
I have lived in Las Vegas since 2006 and moved here from New York -- where I used to own an Italian restaurant, Baldoria, at 49th Street and Broadway, the heart of NYC’s Theater District -- to open Rao’s. To be honest, at that time I had serious doubts about moving to Las Vegas. However, from the minute I landed in Sin City and saw the flashing neon lights, I fell in love with the city, and it seems that the reciprocity is just as true.
Once I started work in the local culinary scene, I realized how serious Las Vegas had become with food. It is a booming culinary town with the potential to become one of the biggest culinary centers in the world. It’s no wonder that so many great and well-known chefs from all over the globe are moving here.
I love the fact that in Las Vegas, I can be a queen with my peers, as I am one of a few well-known female chefs in town. I am proud of this title and encourage women who love to cook to strive to become chefs and own their kitchens.
While I am independent and strong, I try to not lose my femininity. I love being a girl, and I pass this nurturing quality onto my food and in my restaurant’s atmosphere. My dining rooms are soft and airy, as I want my customers to feel cozy and comfortable -- as if they are dining in my home.
I prefer to be present in my restaurants during service and try to personally thank all of my guests. I’m always looking for their feedback and reassuring their satisfaction. We have had many celebrities dine at my Bacio in the Tropicana, including Jordin Sparks, Sean Kingston, Hot Chelle Rae, Ryan Lochte and my favorite the cast from “Dancing With the Stars: Live in Las Vegas” also at Tropicana.
But every single person who comes through my doors is a VIP to me. Las Vegas allows me to exercise this point of my personality very well -- so did New York, but it’s easier here.
Ironically, I became more respected in NYC when I transitioned to Las Vegas. I was privileged to host my first dinner for the James Beard Foundation in New York at the James Beard House in 2007 -- not when I lived in New York but once I lived in Vegas! I was invited back another three times and in March was honored to host and cook my fifth dinner at the James Beard House. I hope to return many times. It’s such an amazing cause, and its president, Susan Ungaro, is so good at what she does. I’m very grateful for every time I get to work so close with them all.
I was born in Rio de Janeiro, so with my Latin background, my restaurants tend to be loud and filled with good energy. Having Bacio located at the Tropicana is definitely a match made in heaven. Being a part of the new-look Tropicana project is truly a treat; I enjoy every minute of it. Working with Tropicana’s CEO Alex Yemenidjian makes me feel like being a part of his family. I was very fortunate to be Tropicana Food & Beverage VP Tom Recine’s choice to reinvent Bacio and use my recipes and name it my own -- Bacio by Carla Pellegrino. I look forward to celebrating this partnership for many years to come.
Additionally, I am proud of my Henderson gem Bratalian Neopolitan Cantina located minutes from the Strip. I am most proud that both restaurants, while fairly new, have won many awards. It is a pleasure to run this restaurant with my dear sister chef Alessandra Maderia and brother-in law Walter Ciccone. We have just celebrated our first successful anniversary.
As a chef, I am conscious of cooking healthy and making sure that I keep Italian cuisine authentic. Italian food is not only about pasta, cheese and heavy cream; authentic Italian cuisine is based upon fresh ingredients made from scratch, lots of seafood, grilled chops, oven-roasted fishes and vegetables cooked in every flavorful way possible.
I always keep my seasonings very simple, essentially salt, pepper and Mediterranean herbs. This way I can be faithful to my guests’ palates and my ingredients. I encourage everyone to follow a Mediterranean diet regularly, and Italian cuisine is the best format for that. Well-executed Italian food will achieve health and longevity; we can all use some of that!
I am very pleased to take part in many charitable events in Vegas, and we have a lot coming up in our community. Three Square food bank’s Restaurant Week is always a perfect time for new customers to try our restaurants: We have a great prix-fixe special at $30.12 at Bratalian and Bacio, and it benefits a great cause.
I believe in healthy eating, so I enthusiastically agreed to be the chef chair for Flavors of the Heart in support of the American Heart Association on Sept. 8. I hope everyone will come by my booth and say hello. Next, I continue to raise awareness for the James Beard Foundation as Las Vegas Food & Wine kicks off Sept. 22. Another favorite event is M.E.N.U.S. for the Epicurean Charitable Foundation on Sept. 28, where I plan to feature dishes from Bratalian.
As an insight to my life plans, there are few things cooking. I run my restaurants daily, but since I am a workaholic, I continue to work on many new exciting projects: opening a new out-of-state restaurant in 2013 and keeping my nights busy working on recipes for my first cookbook coming out soon. I am very grateful to the Las Vegas community for continuing to make me feel welcome. I hope everyone will come visit me at Bratalian and Bacio!
Carla Pellegrino is executive chef of Bacio at the Tropicana and owner and chef of Bratalian Neapolitan Cantina in Henderson.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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