Carla Pellegrino is a force to be reckoned with. The Top Chef alum went head-to-head with Bobby Flay in Throwdown With Bobby Flay and won. She's opened establishments in New York (Baldoria) and Nevada (Rao's in Las Vegas and Bratalian Neapolitan Cantina inHenderson) and in February took her talents to South Florida with the opening of Touché above E11even Miami.
Now, just four months after the opening of Touché, Carla will travel to New York June 11 for the sixth time to host her own dinner at the James Beard House. She's also a VIP member of the James Beard Foundation and a Women in Food honoree. To celebrate the prestigious honor, she's cooking up a preview of the dinner at Touché this Tuesday, June 3. Pellegrino took time out to talk about making her way back to the James Beard House and what she's learned along the way.
Pellegrino will kick off the evening with ceviche di branzino, barquette russe (pâté brisée topped with vegetables macedoine), and crostini with raw marinated filet mignon. Dinner will continue with a soup/salad combination of gazpacho and greens, pan-seared sea scallops with blood orange, strigoli with zucchini, pan-seared codfish, and pan-seared foie gras over apple compote, apple demiglace and apple sorbet. If that sounds like dessert, it's not. An orange curd with chantilly cream will close the night. Dinner costs $85 and can be paired with wines that have been carefully curated for the special dishes for a supplemental $25.
New Times: What's it like going back to the James Beard House for the sixth time? Are you nervous?
Carla Pellegrino: It's flattering as always! I feel blessed and honored every time I get their invitation to do anything within the foundation. No nerves at all -- I am among friends! Susan Ungaro and Izabela Wojcik have been good friends of mine for a few years.
Do you remember your first dinner? What was it like and was it different from what
Yes, then I was really nervous. It was in 2007 and I was representing Rao's at the time. It all went great despite the size of their kitchen. It's always amazing to work with them because the JBH crew are very united and efficient, which makes everything possible.
How have the dinners at JBF evolved over the years? What have you learned along the way?
I think they get to know me as a chef and a person. As they got to know me, it was less about restaurants and more about my cooking and coming to enjoy my food. I've learned that being yourself is the way to go; it keeps things real.
What's the biggest challenge of cooking in a kitchen that's not your own?
Everything is a bit challenging as a chef when you aren't on your own territory. But after five times in that kitchen, I can say I feel as if it's a little bit mine as well; I've learned how to move well in there.
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Do you have any ritual prior to game time that relaxes you or gets you into your zone?
If I can, I go to yoga. If it's not possible, five minutes of meditation and good breathing exercise will do.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha