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All too often we read and hear about fond memories of grandmother's chocolate pie or Mom's goulash - but sometimes, it's dear ol’ dad that deserves the culinary credit.
Family-run Rao's Restaurant has been a New York City (and restaurant bucket list) mainstay since 1896. Several generations later, Frank Pellegrino Jr. has carried the Rao's family flame to Sin City - and he couldn't have done it without his father, Frank Pellegrino, Sr.
Five Things My Father Taught Me in the Kitchen: Frank Pellegrino, Jr.
1. "The first order of business was to learn how to shuck a clam for one of our most popular dishes, Clams Oreganata. Needless to say, for a 13-year-old it was a daunting task; opening clams was equivalent to cracking a bank vault. But with a great deal of patience and tutelage from my dad it became second nature to me.
You place a clam in the palm of your hand, with the back joint of the clam resting on the pad of your palm. Slide a clam knife into the top left opening of the clam. Slide the clam knife towards you and wiggle it in. Use your fingers to help guide the knife in.
Once you get into the shell, you pop the clam open by twisting the knife up. Follow the top part of the shell with the knife to loosen, then along the bottom half of the clam and remove the top of the shell.
By the time I was 14, I could shuck a bushel of clams in no time at all. To this day, I still help my team shuck clams when they are in need."
2. "Once I had the clam shucking down, my father insisted that I learn how to prepare the stuffing for the clams. He had this recipe down to a science measuring by sight and taste. I was taught to do it the same way by him. Heaven forbid if a guest said the dish tasted different. I would be re-schooled on how to prepare it, over and over again until I was able to make it with my eyes closed.
Little did I know at the time that different variations of this stuffing would complete some other very spectacular dishes, that I still prepare to this day for my guests at Rao’s in Caesars Palace."
3. "My father taught me how Rao’s food should be plated and garnished. You may not think of this as all that important, but it provided me with a greater understanding of how all of one's senses are heightened when they see a dish that is robust in portion, color and aroma.
On another level, he quietly taught me that the presentation of our food was in essence part of the restaurant's identity that we still execute today in both of our restaurants."
4. "After learning how to prepare all of the appetizers on our menu, I graduated to pasta. For me, this was truly the beginning of my culinary experience.
My father, Aunt Anna and Uncle Vincent taught me numerous techniques that I certainly utilize to this day, such as cooking pasta perfectly al dente, adding salt to the water incrementally until we know it is the right amount by its taste, carrying more flavor to the sauce.
Il segretto is an important technique that I continue to use: perfectly cooked al dente pasta is finished by tossing the pasta in its prepared sauce that has been heated in a sauté pan. This allows the pasta to absorb the flavor of the sauce."
5. "My father taught me how to season olive oil in a sauté pan with a clove of peeled garlic, subtly infusing the taste of the garlic into the oil without burning the garlic or the oil. This is ideal for sautéing vegetables, and various sauces for superb pasta dishes.
Over the twenty-plus years working with my father at Rao’s in New York City, he taught me the foundation and tradition of our cuisine, from dressing a salad to quartering a chicken to making our marinara sauce.
If it were not for my father and family, I’d probably would still be a busboy."
Whether domestic god or kitchen klutz, share your fondest cooking memories with your own father or father figure in the comments.
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