FRANK PELLEGRINO JR. – CO-OWNER, RAO’S RESTAURANT
Being a restaurateur, let alone a successful one, has never been easy, even when you’ve got a legendary restaurant such as Rao's in New York in your arsenal. Frank Pellegrino, Jr., co-owner of the original Rao's in Harlem and Rao’s at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, however knows that a successful restaurant is made by making guests feel like they’re part of the family.
"Frankie" as he is known to Rao's regulars, grew up helping his father and family at the restaurant – waiting tables, cooking, managing the restaurant – basically learning the family business, even though his father, Frank Sr. attempted to talk him out of it.
The fourth generation owner of Rao's, Pellegrino attended Connecticut State University on a wrestling scholarship; where he studied graphic design and eventually went on to open his own advertising agency in New York. The restaurant business never left his blood, as he continued to work at the restaurant nights. Frank, however, knew that this was his legacy and where he belonged, ultimately returning to work at Rao's full-time.
In 2000 he opened Baldoria in New York's tony Theater District, a 200 seat restaurant that managed to still carry off the intimate ambience, and stellar Italian cuisine of Rao's, except at Baldoria, people eventually would be able to get a reservation. Pellegrino then decided to bring his talents to Las Vegas to open the second outpost of Rao's.
Pellegrino moved to Las Vegas to open Rao's at Caesars Palace in 2006, and has since brought the same Southern Italian fare and sense of family and camaraderie that one used to only be able to get if they had their standing reservation at the original Rao's. He can be found not only greeting guests, but floating from table to table, ensuring that the Las Vegas experience is the same warm, familiar and inviting one they'd feel in New York.
In 2012, Pellegrino released Rao's On the Grill (St. Martin’s Press), which is full of signature Rao’s dishes and new creations from "Uncle Vincent's Lemon Chicken," to pastas, salads and even desserts, this book is a must-have for anyone with a passion for cooking or dining al fresco.
DON VAN STAAVEREN – WINEMAKER, THREE STICKS WINES
The son of Dutch immigrants, winemaker Don Van Staaveren grew up living and working on dairy farms in California’s Central Valley. Vowing to leave cows behind him, he studied fruit science at California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo, with a specialty in orchards and vineyards. He worked first for Gallo, then for Frank Bartholomew of Buena Vista Vineyards, managing vineyards and a citrus grove on his Sonoma property.
“But I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I’d be a winemaker,” he says.
This is hard to believe coming from the man widely thought to be responsible for bringing international attention to Sonoma winemaking when his 1996 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages was the first Sonoma wine to receive Wine Spectator’s “Wine of the Year” accolade. Modesty, however, is chief among Van Staaveren’s qualities, along with the calm, steady demeanor shared by surfers and farmers (of which he is both), and an unrelenting curiosity—what he calls his love of “tinkering”—that drives his commitment to create ever better wines.
Van Staavaren fell in love with Pinot Noir early in his vineyard days: while at Buena Vista, he joined a post-harvest celebration where someone had opened a bottle of 1947 Chambertin. “And I was transported,” says Van Staaveren. “It was definitely an ‘aha’ moment, and I’ve been hooked on Pinot Noir ever since,” he adds.
In 1976, Van Staaveren left Buena Vista for a job as a crush temp at Chateau St. Jean’s new winery facilities in Kenwood. Dick Arrowood, the owner and winemaker, known for being a taskmaster and perfectionist, liked Van Staaveren’s work ethic. It wasn’t long before the young temp was working his way up the ranks in the cellar and in 1985, he was promoted to winemaker. Around that time, Van Staaveren, who had long been a fan of Burgundian wines, began experimenting with eschewing crushing grapes in favor of whole berry fermentations.
“When I became winemaker, I really wanted to look for gentler ways to handle grapes,” he says. He explains that in 1990, following the winery’s purchase of a new de-stemmer, designed to remove berries from the stem and then drop them in the crusher rollers, he decided to remove the rollers. The idea was unheard of at the time. “I didn’t want any macerated grapes,” he says.
The critical acclaim showered upon Chateau St. Jean—including the first ever winery to have five wines featured in Wine Spectator’s annual Top 100—came in the vintages that followed Van Staaveren’s introduction of gentler winemaking practices, including “crush-less” pressing and gravity-fed operations.
While at Chateau St. Jean, Van Staaveren met Bill Price III following Texas Pacific Group’s purchase of the winery from Suntory in 1996. The two would get together a few times a year to taste wines, even after Van Staaveren left St. Jean to work at what would later become Artesa. They also both share a love of surfing, which is evident in the numerous surfboards and wet suits gracing the walls of the Three Sticks winery. In 2004, after what Van Staavaren jokes was an “eight-year job interview,” Price asked Van Staaveren to become winemaker for Three Sticks Wines.
In his free time, Van Staaveren surfs the waters off the Sonoma Coast, and creates special cookie recipes for each new release from Three Sticks. He’s also a fan of woodworking, and is at work on a surfboard made from the stalks of an agave plant. He enjoys spending time in the garden and the kitchen with his wife, Margo Van Staaveren, whom he met at Chateau St. Jean in 1980 and who continues to work there as winemaker. They have two grown children, and live in rural Sonoma County.