Q&A With Carla PellegrinoFeatured Chef | 0 Comments
CARLA PELLEGRINO: EDE ONLINE’S FEATURED CHEF OF ITALIAN CUISINE
Carla Pellegrino, once Carla Madeira, was born in Rio de Janeiro to a Portuguese father and a second-generation Italian mother. As early as age 10, Carla was cooking daily for her family and helping run her mother's catering business, which educated her in the preparation of traditional Brazilian, Italian and Portuguese cuisine. At age sixteen, Carla moved to Liguria, Italy, where she owned a small store where her passion for cooking inspired her to conduct cooking demonstrations daily. In 1997, travels brought her to the United States. She attended the French Culinary Institute in NYC and in 2000, graduated with honors. In May 2000, she and Frank Pellegrino jr opened and successfully established Baldoria Restaurant on 8th avenue and Broadway at the heart of NYC's theater district. At the end of 2006, a dream became a reality and Carla lead the culinary team as the executive chef to open Rao’s Las Vegas. She took ten of the original recipes from the legendary East Harlem's Italian restaurant, added her own traditional North Italian cuisine and built a high volume menu concept keeping in mind quality of ingredients and consistency and at the same time translating the family style operated by Rao’s family at its ten table restaurant since 1886.
Carla has been featured on the Today Show, CBS Morning Show, Fox News National, Throwdown with Bobby Flay (which she won), Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and multiple other national and local news outlets. She is also a VIP member of the James Beard Foundation in NYC.
Chef Carla was kind enough to answer a series of questions from EDE ONLINE in time for our inaugural launch.
- How does your personality reflect in the style of the food and atmosphere of the restaurants you’ve been involved with?
Since our personalities determine our style for basically everything in life, my restaurants and cuisine style reflect me: simplistic, fresh, delicious, nurturing. I’m not attempting anything grandiose with my menus, but achieving high quality in the taste of each dish is a must.
- Who was/is your mentor?
I think the person I have most looked up to is Chef Dominic Cerrone, former Chef de Cuisine at Le Bernadine in NYC and, luckily for me, also one of my teachers at the French Culinary Institute when I attended in 2000.
- What personality traits do you think are most important for a chef?
Knowledge of the business of course, mastering as many cooking techniques as possible and good leadership skills. Good leadership is what will ultimately make the biggest difference in how far you go in your chef career – it is the most important trait in a successful chef.
- Do you act differently inside the kitchen at work than in the kitchen at home?
I sure do. I love to cook in any environment, but when it comes to my home, it is a hobby rather than a profession and so listening to music and having a glass of wine while cooking are essential components!
- At what moment in your life did you decide to become a chef?
Life decided for me a long time ago, when I was ten and helping my mother in her catering business in Rio de Janeiro (it was a one-staff operation). After that, I had always dreamed of opening a restaurant, but I was living in Italy during my teenage years and everyone kept saying how much of male job it was. After moving to New York, the decision happened unconsciously. Frankie (Frank Pellegrino Jr) tried my food at home, in NYC, and told me he had to open a Café for me! That was in 1997.
- Can you name five items that you always keep in your fridge at home?
Mixed berries, almond milk, marmalade (all kinds of it), Pancetta, eggs and sweet butter.
- How has or does street food / home cooking influence your cuisine?
Not street food but home cooking, definitely. This comprises exactly what I do! My goal is to make people feel at home when they eat in one of my restaurants. The aromas from the kitchen should bring them back to their Grandmother’s house.
- Besides food, what are your interests or hobbies?
I’m a long distance runner, I love it so much, and doing it regularly sort of saves my life! I love many kinds of good music, I love to hike, dance, talk and drink wine… I love life and everything that it involves!
- The green/organic lifestyle: how important is it to you and your line of work?
I truly believe that most of this current buzz is just marketing. Good food is good food regardless. As long as the ingredients are high in quality, are fresh and the food is prepared well then it will be consistently healthy as well as delicious – no matter what. Looking at the manner in which Italian food has been prepared traditionally – from the market to the plate – you could say it has always been “organic”.
- What inspires you and influences your culinary creations/menus?
Everything in my personal life inspires and influences me; ever since I can recall anything, every action and reaction is linked to one to another as a whole. However, I feel especially linked to the weather, the seasons… I love the intermediary seasons (Spring and Autumn), these times of the year deeply inspire me.
- Describe your idea of the perfect dining experience.
A romantic deuce dinner in autumn in Paris or NYC in a high-end French Cuisine restaurant… one of Joel Robouchon’s places I would say!
- If you could pick anyone in the world to cook for (past or present) who would you choose and why?
For Lidia Bastianich, just because I think she would appreciate my style of cooking.
- In your opinion, what is the ultimate food and beverage paring?
It will never change: Champagne and Caviar – Iranian Beluga Kaviar and Krug Brut Blanc Champagne Clos du Mesnil 1998 in my opinion.
- In which restaurants would you currently most like to dine in?
Japanese – all levels of it. I also love Julian Serrano’s food – being a lady, I really enjoy the small portions and variety of tapas that he has to offer.
- What are the ‘key’ ingredients to becoming a successful chef and running your own business?
- What are some of the most significant changes that have occurred in the restaurant business in the last decade?
I think the decisive nature of our customers – this has been one of the most influencing factors in the business. Our guests are more educated and know what they want. They also realize how important their opinion is and are not afraid to speak out and give feedback about a restaurant’s quality, which I think is great. I love the direct interaction that we now have with the public and how public opinion is beginning to determine our guidelines rather than the other way around.
- Which trends do you think will have the most influence in the next decade (eg molecular gastronomy)?
Unfortunately, yes, molecular gastronomy… which, in my opinion, breaks all the values of creating good food!
- Do you have any tips you’d like to share with budding chefs/restaurateurs about how to deal with the pressures of creating a fine dining experience and managing a business at the same time?
In our business we’re under extreme pressure from the minute we’ve decided to be in a professional kitchen; no matter what the position. All cooks have to be able to work under pressure; it’s just the way it is. You need to like that kind of feeling, and believe me, it’s addictive! My main tip would be to establish a firm career goal early on and be determined to reach that goal. Never give up on your dream – as this should be with everything in life!
Thanks for having me on EDE ONLINE.