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Book asks Las Vegas chefs what to cook for unexpected guests

Faced with last-minute guests, Maria Isabella would wonder something along the lines of “What would Daniel do?” “Or Charlie or Susan?”

So she asked them — Daniel Boulud, Charlie Palmer, Susan Spicer and 72 other well-known chefs, including Carla Pellegrino of Las Vegas.

The result is “Chefs & Company,” a 400-plus-page hardback cookbook that was released in October.

“It stemmed from my own personal dilemma — what I would cook for my own last-minute guests,” the Cleveland-based Isabella said in a telephone interview. “As I’m struggling to come up with what to make, my mind kept wandering to my favorite chefs: What would they make? It just fascinated me, what their choices ended up being.

“It was nice to get into their heads and find out what their go-to meals were for entertaining their owns friends and family. It opens up the door a little bit to who they are as people.”

Isabella, whose first book, “In the Kitchen with Cleveland’s Favorite Chefs” (Kent State University Press/Black Squirrel Books, $34.95) is in its sixth printing, first approached Daniel Boulud for the project. When her son-in-law won an Oscar a few years ago and Boulud presided at the post-Oscar party, the two men became friends, bonding over the shared experience of new babies, she said.

“He so graciously and unselfishly decided to say yes,” Isabella said. “He was enthusiastic. It just made me feel great that someone so famous and so well known and so incredibly busy would be happy to participate in my project.

“It trickled down to every chef I worked with — how gracious and genuine they were with their time and enthusiasm. It just told me a lot about the professionals who are representing the food industry. Hospitality goes beyond just their job.”

Isabella approached each chef with the same hypothetical: “If you were to entertain last-minute guests at your own home, what would you prepare for them in one hour or less?”

Pellegrino, chef-owner of Bratalian in Henderson, is among the chefs featured in the book.

“It was such an honor,” Pellegrino said, to be among so many culinary lions.

She called the concept “refreshing.”

“I think when you ask a chef to do something like that, it needs to be something you could find at any time in your pantry,” she said. “Most of us did things we don’t even do at the restaurant. I think she caught the genuine side of each chef.”

Isabella, a tester for America’s Test Kitchen and Bon Appetit, said she chose chefs on the strength of Michelin stars, James Beard Foundation awards, top TV shows or inclusion in national magazines.

“I wanted the best of the best, the creme de la creme,” she said.

Other chefs in the book who have Las Vegas restaurants are Susan Feniger (Border Grill, Mandalay Bay and The Forum Shops at Caesars), Charlie Palmer (Aureole at Mandalay Bay and Charlie Palmer Steak at the Four Seasons) and Jean Joho (The Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris Las Vegas). Isabella also included bits of personal color on each chef, such as play lists, tips, beverage pairings and more. Pellegrino’s pairings, for example, are “plenty of water” and “a good bottle of La Scolca Gavi dei Gavi white wine,” her playlist music such as bossa nova (Tom Jobim, Adriana Rios), Italian jazz (Paolo Conte) and Italian pop (Pino Daniele). As for her recipes, they follow.

Isabella said the book has been well received so far.

“It’s not just a glossy book you’re going to put on your coffee table and walk away,” she said. “These are (recipes) you’re going to use over and over for entertaining, with great advice. And with a lot of pride.”

Chicken Scaloppine in Beer Sauce

12 baby carrots, peeled

8 new potatoes, peeled (and halved if they’re big)

1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast

All-purpose flour, for dredging

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground white pepper, to taste

1/2 cup corn or vegetable oil, divided

1 medium-sized white onion, finely chopped

2 cups frozen sweet baby peas

1 1/2 cups chicken stock (can substitute hot water seasoned with chicken bouillon like Knorr)

1 1/2 cups Heineken beer, at room temperature

Prepare a bowl of ice water and set it by the stove. Parboil the carrots by adding them to a saucepan of boiling water. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes, then immediately chill in the ice bath. Set aside.

Parboil the potatoes by adding them to a pot of slightly salted water. Bring to a boil. After 3 minutes, drain and let them air cool. Do not place in the ice bath.

With a sharp chef’s or fish knife, cut down the center of the chicken breast, making it into two halves. Then place one hand on top of a chicken breast half, and with the knife held parallel to the cutting board, slice the chicken piece, as evenly as possible, crosswise in half. Repeat with the other chicken breast half. This will give you four slices of chicken breast meat about 1/2 inch thick. Place each piece between plastic wrap and then, using a meat pounder or the bottom of a heavy skillet, gently pound the chicken slices into scaloppine 1/4 inch thick each, being careful not to tear the meat.

Dredge each scaloppine in the flour, shaking off the excess. Season both sides generously with salt and white pepper and set aside on a sheet of wax paper.

Place a large, 14-inch, heavy-bottomed saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, or until it’s really hot. Carefully pour in 1/4 cup of the oil and swirl to make sure the bottom of the pan is completely coated. Place the scaloppine in the hot pan and sear on both sides without coloring. Remove from the heat and set the scaloppine aside.

Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of oil into the same pan and heat over medium heat. Add the onion. Saute for 3 minutes, or just until crisp but without any color. Add the parboiled carrots, peas and parboiled potatoes and stir gently. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Lower the the heat, cover and let simmer for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are really tender. Season with salt and white pepper, if needed. Stir gently.

Lay the scaloppine over the vegetables. Add the beer, cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 8 minutes, or until the alcohol is completely evaporated. Remove from the heat.

Arrange the chicken and vegetables on individual serving plates and serve hot.

Serves 4.

NOTE: Beer lends it own unique and tasty twist to this dish, which is otherwise a very traditional north Italian recipe. “Be sure to only use Heineken beer,” warns Carla. “I find this brand is the most bitter, which gives a much better flavor to the sauce.”

Red Wine-Marinated Mixed Berries with Vanilla Gelato

8 ounces fresh strawberries, stemmed and quartered

4 ounces fresh raspberries

4 ounces fresh blackberries

4 ounces fresh blueberries

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup dry red wine (like Chianti or Dolcetto)

4 small scoops vanilla gelato (can substitute ice cream)

Fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Place the berries in a bowl and gently mix together. Add the sugar and pepper and gently mix, then add the lemon juice and wine and gently stir. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes but not more than 2 hours.

Divide the berries and their juices into four small dessert bowls or cups. Top with a scoop of vanilla gelato and garnish with a mint leaf, if desired. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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