Carla Pellegrino was born in Brazil to Portuguese and Italian parents, making for a colorful culinary upbringing that started in Rio and ended in northern Italy. Once stateside, Carla attended culinary school and opened Baldoria Restaurant with then-husband Frank Pellegrino. She cheffed at Rao’s in New York and Las Vegas for 14 years where she became something of a star, appeared on Top Chef, and was invited to the James Beard House five times. Now, she’s landed at Touché, where she serves up classic Italian in a fine dining setting and casual bites on the roof of E11EVEN nightclub. The sexy spot is right up the Vega-alum’s alley with a 24-7 hour timetable, “exotic” entertainment and some of the best food on the planet. On her way to the James Beard house for the sixth time, Carla is finally veering out of uncharted culinary territory.
HL: You’ve been invited to the James Beard House for the sixth time this summer. What are you going to cook?
CP: I never repeat myself, but I always do Italian cuisine. This year, for the first time I’m going to incorporate a little Asian into the meal. Although I have to admit I do not really like fusions so it has to be done correctly. It’s very small and they do not have all kinds of equipment so I rent a commissary kitchen and prep throughout the day and night and at 8 p.m. we bring everything there. It’s the only way.
HL: The kitchen here at Touché is -shall we say – intimate?
CP: Yes, we are a bit on top of each other, but coming from New York, it’s easier for me. What is challenging is having four menus, food for the club, the rooftop and fine dining, and an executive menu for E11eVen for all the private parties and packages we do.
HL: What is the most important thing in a kitchen?
CP: Consistency. In France or Italy, you can usually count on it. When you go back to a place fifteen years later, you can get the same pasta you loved. Food should transport you… take you places. I really love it when you eat something that tastes just like what your mother used to make. I guess that’s why I never liked molecular gastronomy- although I did gain a lot more respect for it while doing Top Chef.
HL: Speaking of Top Chef, is the food they make on the show good?
CP: It’s not [really] possible. They gave me 20 minutes to make pasta! Real, fresh pasta takes three hours just to rest the dough. To me, it’s shit. It may look like the real thing, but it’s not!
HL: Tell me about Rao’s.
CP: It was an honor but it was also very hard because I was always tip-toeing around to make sure that I didn’t deviate from the classic recipes that have a hundred-year history.
HL: And now you’re at Touché, where you can do anything.
CP: Yes! At Touché, I can really create, even though I still make everything from scratch. That’s why even the lounge food is so good!