To be a great chef, you need the soul of an artist, the temperament of a drill sergeant, and the stamina of a bricklayer. – ELV
The whole what’s it like to be a female chef in a man’s world? thing is pretty played out by now, but there are still items of interest about the phenomena. One of which is: the kitchens in three of Vegas’s most successful, highest grossing (and high end) restaurants (Eiffel Tower, Carnevino and Rao’s) are run by women. To look at Joung Sohn, Nicole Brisson or Nicole Grimes, you wouldn’t peg them as kitchen commanders charged with whipping troops into shape and coordinating culinary battle plans every day, but command they do, earning the respect of their line cooks, and sous chefs based their military-like precision, iron will, and work ethic (plus learning a lot of “kitchen Spanish”).
Grimes (26) is the youngest of the three, and “got lucky” when she put in her resume to F&B exec Greg Waldron at Caesars in 2006. After passing muster with “The Family” (we’re talking the Pellegrino’s here – Italian food icons), she worked as a chef tournant before (literally) working her way up the ranks to where she now supervises 28 back of the house staff (including two other female cooks). Her crew easily cranks out over 500+ covers on a busy weekend evening, and has kept Rao’s at the top of the Italian-American food chain — nary missing a beat since Carla Pellegrino left almost two years ago. (FYI: Rao’s in the Big Apple has 6 people in the kitchen.)
Born in McKeesport, PA, this lithesome-lass credits her Le Cordon Bleu education, an externship at The Broadmoor in Colorado, and “speaking to people like I’d like to be spoken to” as keys to her success. “You don’t have to be extra aggressive or assertive to get things done,” she told us, adding that, like all young women in jobs with this much responsibility, she cites a few instances of having to stand up to some of the more macho/condescending male cooks, “but once you do that, and they see how hard you work, you gain their respect.”
ELV thinks if he were a macho male cook, he would be more interested in asking Grimes out for a drink than in condescending to her….and after tasting her linguine with clams…
…he’d probably propose on the spot.
Grimes and owner Frank Pellegrino Jr. (the dude horning in on ELV’s action in the second picture above), tell us they’re returning some of the recipes back to the more classic ones featured at the original store. Try as he might though, ELV was unable to coax the cheesecake recipe from either of them. “I haven’t even given the exact recipe to Nicole,” Frankie says. “We got it from an old Italian lady who used to make our cheesecakes in her kitchen in the Bronx. The recipe is literally under lock and key in New York.”
So how have they been able to duplicate it? “I give her an idea of what I want…and she comes very close to the original…although ours has a crust and the one in New York doesn’t,” is his sly reply.
We are on record as saying Rao’s cheesecake — whether made with or without a crust, or according to the exact, secret recipe or a facsimile thereof — is practically life-changing.
Maybe that’s because it was made, and is still being made, by women who love what they do.
RAO’S LAS VEGAS
In Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino
3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702.731.RAOS or 877.346.4642