Alba Seaside Italian ’s Executive Chef and Director of Hospitality Ralph Pagano is the real deal. He doesn’t hide his New Yorkese from the cameras, whether he’s challenging Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, going to “hell and back” with Gordon Ramsay or hosting his show Pressure Cook, now syndicated on the Travel Channel. Now he has a new program titled All Mixed Up for Lifetime, which takes the pressure off of him and on the students he’s evaluating.
HL: Tell me about your new show, All Mixed Up.
RP: I take three culinary students and put them in a battle of appetizers, entrées and desserts, but as the title dictates, just when they think they’ve got their footing correct, I mix them all up and it’s a lot of fun. I’m the administrator of pressure.
HL: Has being a television chef changed the way you cook?
RP: Cooking under pressure and on TV has made me much more alert as a cook because your actions and everything that you do resonates forever. The world has become a different place. Now it’s much more critical, right? It’s made me and my staff more in tune to what’s going on around us.
HL: How did you come to Solé on the Ocean?
RP: The hotel was developed and built by two partners from New Jersey who also have a hotel out in the Hamptons. Before I came down to Miami, I used to have a pretty well-thought-of restaurant in Bridgehampton. So about 3 years ago, they came to me with the opportunity to take over the food and beverage operations there. Our front door is Collins Avenue and our back door is the Atlantic Ocean, I’m pretty spoiled. Every day I report to work at the beach so it’s about as good as it gets.
HL: Tell me about the Italian food that you serve.
RP: I’m a New York City kid born and bred right, so I do a Lobster Francaise that would be at home on 30th Street in Manhattan. The Italian food that I cook is real soul food; it’s comfort food, the stuff that makes people all warm and fuzzy inside.
HL: What is the most important thing in the kitchen?
RP: A spoon. I go through 5,000 plastic tasting spoons a week. You can’t not know what something tastes like when you’re in the kitchen. I can’t just hope the sauce tastes good!
HL: You offer the “Vinny D Split,” a raffle that gives the chance for every dinner to be free. Why?
RP: My great-grandfather used to take me to Gargiulo’s (est. 1905) on Coney Island as a kid and they did it, so we adopted the game and named it after him. We have wooden balls in a hopper numbered 1-100. The table picks one number and if that one comes up, the entire check is on the house. In July, it cost me two grand because we had three tables win in a row. I come from a gambling background and hey, if you beat me, you’ll tell a thousand people that you had dinner at our restaurant last night. And it’s a good time.