*Presenting an Italian feast
"The restaurant world is a blend of business and poetry," states restaurant owner Piero Selvaggio, who has mastered the perfect balance of both. Expanding a $4,500 venture into a multi-million dollar business has enabled Selvaggio to realize his vision – to bring the food of Italy, with authenticity and style, to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and soon throughout the United States.
Selvaggio did not foresee his success in the restaurant business. Born in Modica, Sicily, he immigrated to the United States, arriving in Brooklyn at the age of 18. After a few months of washing dishes in a cafeteria at New York University, he moved to Los Angeles to live with an uncle who was a manager at the legendary Chasen's. Piero was given a job as a busboy, attending college during the day. Within five years, he advanced from busboy to manager, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in Romance languages, speaking fluent French, Spanish, English and Italian.
In 1972, when Selvaggio was 26, he received an offer he couldn't refuse. "A friend suggested that we partner to open an Italian restaurant. I thought, 'What do we have to lose?'" He sensed tremendous potential for quality Italian foods and wines in Los Angeles. Two years later, when his friend decided to leave Valentino and open his own restaurant, Selvaggio bought his partner's share of the business.
By the early 1990s, Selvaggio and Valentino had reached its full potential. But disaster struck in 1993 when Selvaggio lost his home in the Malibu fire, only to be followed by the Northridge earthquake in 1994 which destroyed a significant portion of Valentino’s immense wine cellar. Despite the devastation, Selvaggio's determination to survive was tenacious, and Valentino was recognized for its achievement and insistence for high standards in food and service. Valentino was awarded #1 of the top three restaurants in the country by Wine Spectator in 1995 and #1 by Ruth Reichl, then the restaurant critic of the New York Times, who praised Valentino as the best Italian restaurant in America.
In 1996, Selvaggio was the recipient of the prestigious James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Service Award. In 1997, Valentino rated #1 in Wine Spectator's list of "America's 10 Best Italian Restaurants," was voted "America's Top Table" among Gourmet magazine's readers, and received the California Restaurant Association Educational Foundation Hall of Fame Award. In addition, Piero was given the Cavaliere Award by the President of the Sicilian region for his significant contribution to the image of Italian Heritage. Most recently, Selvaggio and Valentino were awarded the Restaurants and Institutions' 2000 Ivy Award of Distinction, and Wine Spectator named Valentino as having "one of the greatest wine cellars of them all."
Today, Valentino in Santa Monica has expanded its dining areas and created the innovative vin bar, while continuing to host celebrities and eminent clientele. Selvaggio's philosophy ensures the welcome of each guest and that the kitchen preserves its authenticity. Many kitchen ingredients are imports from Italy, including white truffles, fresh porcini mushrooms, Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea fish, and the rarest unique discoveries from a growing society of food artisans.
Valentino's wine cellar is considered one of the best in the world. It offers 2,200 choices among 130,000 bottles. "There are bigger cellars elsewhere in the United States, but none better or more comprehensive," says Marvin Shanken publisher of the Wine Spectator, who has sited Valentino as having one of the best wine lists in the United States for several years running.
Between 1986 and 2003, Selvaggio developed and operated two other concepts, Primi, in West Los Angeles, and Posto, in the San Fernando Valley, both of which became popular neighborhood destinations for social and business dining for several years. He sold both businesses by 2003, focusing on his most ambitious venture to date – Las Vegas.
Selvaggio was one of the pioneers in bringing culinary excellence to Las Vegas. In the summer of 1999, Valentino and The Grill at Valentino opened at the Venetian Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Luciano Pellegrini, executive chef and maestro of the restaurant, is regarded as an expert in the art of matching every dish with the perfect wine. Valentino now ranks as one of the finest fine dining restaurants in Las Vegas and is considered the pearl of the luxury hotel. Selvaggio opened Giorgio Ristorante e Caffe, at Mandalay Place in Las Vegas, a casual and comfortable restaurant with authentic Italian foods with appeal to a wide audience. Both restaurants are recognized as top dining choices in a city now known for some of the best cuisine in the United States.
At his home base in Santa Monica, Selvaggio compares running Valentino to being on stage: no two days are alike, and improvisation is key. After an espresso, Piero's day generally begins with office work, answering calls from journalists and clientele and writing articles for publication. Piero, a charming and eloquent speaker, is a leading source on Italian food and wine and has been seen and heard regularly on radio and television shows. Time spent away from the restaurant is dedicated to promoting his memoir and collection of recipes, The Valentino Cookbook, published in 2001 (Villard: New York), or to participating in charity events, and acting as the Italian consultant for Crystal Cruises' luxury cruise lines.
Selvaggio steadfastly keeps his ties with Italy through food, culture, events and activities, finding every opportunity to be a chef or a guest at significant Italian events. He is immensely proud of his Sicilian heritage and the development of the island, especially his native area of Modica, rich with Baroque and Arab traditions. The people of the island recognize him as the most famous Sicilian ristoratore of the world, as well as a source of inspiration and an esteemed figure of accomplishment.
After over three decades at the helm of his establishments, Piero continues to polish his craft, a requirement in a business that demands to be faster and better with each year. After sustaining success and surviving the many trials of the industry, Selvaggio moves forward. He is currently developing several original concepts to slated open in new markets in the United States in the next few years.
Bergamo, Italy is the birthplace of one of America's most established chefs, Luciano Pellegrini. Pellegrini began his culinary experience in his mother's kitchen and at age 13, he enrolled at San Pellegrino, one of Italy's most prestigious hotel schools. He spent his teenage years attending school and gaining experience at various restaurants throughout Italy. After graduation, Pellegrini was exposed to dining at its finest when working at Locanda dell'Angelo in Bergamo.
At the age of 18, after Pellegrini completed his required one-year of military service as a parachutist, he gained experience and expertise working for an impressive list of top Italian restaurants. In 1985, he took a brave step by moving to the United States to work with restaurateur Piero Selvaggio, who had achieved a solid reputation for bringing genuine Italian cuisine to California.
By 1987, Pellegrini was quickly developing his cooking and leadership skills as a pasta chef at Selvaggio's restaurant, Primi, and then in 1991 as head chef at Posto restaurant in the San Fernando Valley. Pellegrini was immediately recognized for his talents and was critically acclaimed by Max Jacobson, Larry Lipson of the Los Angeles Daily News and S. Irene Virbila, restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times, who commented that his kitchen excels at "the kind of rustic main courses you might find in the Italian countryside."
To further perfect his culinary art, Pellegrini returned to Italy. While there, he learned the art of grilling on the "fogolar," a traditional, flavorful way of cooking on a wood-burning grill. He also spent a great deal of time with Bruno Libralon, a renowned Italian Chef. Libralon, leader of the Italian Chef Association, is often referred to as the "King of Fish." Pellegrini enhanced his skills worked with a local sausage connoisseur to perfect the art of sausage-making. During different stages in his travels, Pellegrini has worked with some of the most creative and respected Italian chefs in the world including Gianfranco Vissani, Fulvio Pierangelini, Paola DiMauro and Nadia Santini.
When he returned to California and showcased his new talents, the James Beard Foundation listed him among the Top 10 chefs in Los Angeles. He maintained this position for six consecutive years.
In 1999, Pellegrini was given the chance to use his creativity and lead the kitchen as executive chef and partner when Valentino Las Vegas debuted. His dedication has turned Valentino into one of the leading Italian restaurants in Nevada. Backed by his culinary expertise, Valentino Las Vegas has received numerous awards including the esteemed DiRoNA (Distinguished Restaurants of North America) Award of Excellence, six Las Vegas Life Epicurean Awards for Best Italian Restaurant and a 2007 Epicurean Award for Best Wine List. Valentino Las Vegas has also received the Grand Award from Wine Spectator annually since 2002 for its extraordinary wine list.
Pellegrini is also a partner at Giorgio Ristorante E Caffe, a more casual restaurant concept located at Mandalay Place on the Las Vegas strip. The menu, partly created by Pellegrini, reflects the chef’s versatility in designing a selection of simple yet authentic Italian dishes with wide audience appeal.
In 2003, Pellegrini was the only chef in Las Vegas nominated by the James Beard Foundation. He received the prestigious award for Best Chef in the Southwest for his achievements in setting consistent standards of excellence by the Foundation in 2004. Pellegrini is a frequent guest chef for some of Italy's leading culinary events, including the Bacco d'Oro di Brunello wine dinner in Montalcino, Gambero Rosso magazine's dinner gala in Rome and the Guida L'Espresso celebration dinner in Palermo.
Numerous food critics have given Pellegrini rave reviews for his culinary talents and for bringing "a taste of Italian countryside" to America. He continues to command respect and admiration from his peers, culinary journalists and faithful guests.
Chefs of Tomorrow Menu:
- Steamed Scampi with Artichoke and Taleggio Salad with a Verjus and Grape Dressing
- Cheese Three Ways: Hot, Cold and Crispy with Mixed Fruit
- Quail Meatloaf on Polenta and Braised Cabbage
- Buffalo Medallion with Caramelized Cauliflower, White Wine Demi, and White Truffle
- Creamy Rabbit Spezzatino with Fontina Stuffed Bucatini and Funghi di Bosco