The sensational Spanish chef talks about the disastrous first meal he cooked as a child and his latest restaurant sensation, LAGO at the Bellagio.
[Celebrity Chef and Restaurateur]
A full-time Las Vegas resident, Julian Serrano is known for his memorable take on Mediterranean-French cooking, which earned his first Las Vegas restaurant, the Michelin two-starred Picasso at Bellagio, 14 AAA Five Diamond awards and the coveted Grand Award from Wine Spectator. Serrano’s native Spain was then the focus for his next restaurant, the eponymous Julian Serrano, which was named one of the Best New Restaurants of 2010 by Esquire magazine. This month, Serrano turns the focus to Italian cuisine at Bellagio's LAGO.
What are your first memories of cooking?
The first meal I ever cooked was baked fish for Christmas dinner. I made such a mess in the kitchen that my mother told me I wasn’t allowed to cook again! But I was drawn to cooking because I love to travel and I believed that becoming a chef would allow me that opportunity.
Your restaurants have been awarded many times over. What does it take to create an award-winning experience?
Consistency in both food and service. Guests know that every time they come to any of my restaurants, they can expect the same high-quality experience. We treat every guest with respect and cater to dietary restrictions.
How did you come up with the concept for LAGO?
Everyone loves traditional Italian food. I love tapas-style dining because it encourages conversation and makes lunch or dinner a social experience. I decided to combine these two concepts and create a restaurant that serves traditional Italian small plates.
The small-plate concept is popular. Do you find it gets guests to try new things?
Yes, the small plate concept does give guests the chance to taste a wide variety of dishes from the menu, and they are more likely to try something new if it’s served in a small portion and they can share it with a friend. Small plates also give guests the chance to create the dining experience that they want— whether that’s a quick meal on the go or a long social experience with friends and family.
What makes a great dish?
Simple, clean flavors made from the freshest ingredients available. Every dish should be made with passion.
What is one item you can't be without in the kitchen?
Salt. It brings out the natural flavors in ingredients and makes everything taste better.
What's your favorite dish to cook?
It's simple—oven roasted chicken with french fries.
Great wine goes hand-in-hand with Italian cuisine. LAGO also has an innovative mixology program. Personally, do you prefer a glass of wine or a great cocktail?
I enjoy both, but you can never go wrong with a great glass of wine. LAGO features an extensive selection of Italian wines.
You work in your own kitchens every night. What are the benefits of that?
I know all of my staff very well, which builds trust. When I come to my restaurants, I say hello and shake hands with everyone working that day. I’m happy to say that many of my staff have been with me since day one.
What's your favorite guilty indulgence?
What are your passions in addition to cooking?
I enjoy playing tennis and traveling.
What are your favorite travel destinations?
I love going to Spain. It’s where I was born and raised, so it feels like going home. I travel to New York often to visit my daughter who lives there. I also enjoy visiting San Francisco, one of the cities where I got my start in the culinary industry.
LAGO's dining room
Gnocchi at LAGO
Crudo at LAGO