Working with casino executives does not come naturally for Ralph Perrazzo. In 2002, when Caesars Palace’s Greg Waldron flew him in from New York to offer him a job at the property’s new restaurant Bradley Ogden, he accepted the trip and partied hard on the casino’s dime. The meeting, however, did not go well.
“I called him a suit,” Perrazzo recalls.
“I was like, ‘You know what man? I like where I’m at right now. I really don’t want to work for a suit. It seems very corporate here. Thank you for the time, I really appreciate it. I’ll just take my trip back.’ ”
The arrogant young chef’s culinary school friends who had arranged the trip and interview eventually smoothed things over. He joined the Bradley Ogden team in 2003, and the restaurant went on to win the prestigious James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant.
But when Waldron later secured Perrazzo the pastry chef position at the casino’s next big restaurant, Guy Savoy, he again found himself in a clash of personalities while training in Paris.
“I did not get along with the (Paris) pastry chef at all,” he says tactfully, before admitting he may have spewed a few choice words in the French chef’s direction and was summoned back to Las Vegas and fired.
In light of that history, it can be hard to imagine Perrazzo as a part the Station Casinos family. And yet his new restaurant bBd’s (Beers, Burgers, Desserts) is set to open at Palace Station on Labor Day weekend.
Meat, beer, music, art
Like the Long Island original Perrazzo opened in 2013, the local bBd’s will be a celebration of meat, beer, heavy metal and other music, and darkly provocative art.
The chef spends some of his time obsessing on details such as how much weight the meat racks in his showcase butcher shop will hold, ensuring the proper head on a Belgian beer, which paintings by world-renowned tattoo artists to hang on his walls, the quality of locally grown produce and whether Megadeth will be available to play the after-party for his opening. He’s doing all this under the watchful eyes of a company full of “suits.”
Perrazzo — an imposing figure thanks to his large, heavily-tattooed frame, shaved head and full beard — doesn’t deny he’s received some pushback on a few ideas. There will be no “dead babies” in the art collection (a joking reference to an unsettling painting of a doll by artist Shawn Barber). And there will be no heavy metal concert in Palace Station’s parking lot on a holiday weekend.
The chef spends far more time, however, talking about the many ideas he’s gotten approved, such as the meticulous (and pricey) tap system he insists is superior to any in Las Vegas. The dining room feels completely removed from the casino floor, accessible through a hallway lined with his favorite art. And that butcher shop will showcase hanging slabs of beef and chefs grinding meat for all to see. Perrazzo credits those victories to Station Casinos’ billionaire principals Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, whom he believes understand his rock and roll sensibility.
“Frank and Lorenzo are putting a dead shark over a bar and finding out how to make that work,” he says, referring to the controversial work by artist Damien Hirst that adorns the Unknown bar in Stations’ newly renovated Palms. “So in my eyes they’re workable people.”
Station may offer a different brand of suits, but Perrazzo, who turns 39 this month, is also different. After being fired by Caesars, the same executive who let him go arranged for a job with nightlife powerhouse Pure Management Group. There, he hung out with celebrities at their restaurants Social House and Company American Bistro. But things began to change in 2008.
“I think we all can remember where we were when Pure got raided by the IRS,” he says of the criminal probe that rocked the nightclub world just as the recession was starting to hit Las Vegas.
As he approached his 29th birthday, the chef knew he needed to do something a little more real.
One Sunday after an extended ride on his Harley, he met his friend Hugo Moreno at a dive bar on Blue Diamond Road and began contemplating the future.
“He said, ‘What are your favorite things?’ I said, ‘I love beer. I love burgers. And desserts I guess.’ ”
With that, the idea for bBd’s was born. He spent the next five years on research and weathered a roller coaster ride of unreliable investors, unglamorous jobs and struggling to pay the rent as he tried to get it off the ground. When he found a space near his sister’s home in Long Island, he negotiated a deal to renovate the space for free, supplying much of the labor himself in exchange for a deal on rent.
“It was brutal for me.”
The restaurant opened to public and critical acclaim, including a win at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash. But even that success was bittersweet.
“I had a friend who helped out, and I made him a partner, and maybe six months into the project he was stealing from me.”
Business side of things
Perhaps that decade of struggles helped change Perrazzo’s attitude. It certainly made him more appreciative of “suits.”
“I’ve learned that your lawyer and your CPA and your bookkeeper are your best friends,” he says without a hint of irony. And, he adds, as an owner worried about the success of his brand, he speaks the language of his corporate partners.
“If I want to build a custom grill that works with my concept, I can explain it to them from a business standpoint.”
It’s a collaborative process that the chef has come to appreciate.
“What’s cool is they let me do what I want to do, and now they embrace it.”