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Las Vegas chef trading bright lights for glaciers and sequoias

One of the most colorful figures on the local culinary scene is trading the bright lights of our big city for the glaciers and sequoias of a national park. Carla Pellegrino, who came to Las Vegas in 2006 to open Rao’s in Caesars Palace, was a partner in the short-lived Meatball Spot in Town Square and operated Henderson’s Bratalian, is relocating to Yosemite National Park to operate the dining rooms and room service for its historic Majestic Yosemite Hotel.

The resort, formerly known as the Ahwahnee Hotel, was built in 1927. While its dining is run by Aramark, the building is owned by the federal government. The chef says those facts limit her options as she tries to upgrade its operations.

“It is an historic building. The biggest challenge is that physically we cannot change anything, even to add equipment, because the federal government actually owns everything. So anything that needs to be changed, it takes a while. It’s going to be a big challenge. But I like challenges.”

What may be even more of a challenge for Pellegrino is adapting to the calm seclusion of Yosemite. The Brazilian-born Pellegrino, known to many for her boisterous appearances on Season 10 of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” is almost as famous for her fun, fiery personality as her traditional Italian fare. In addition to her Las Vegas projects, she has run a restaurant in New York City and a nightclub/strip club in Miami. But she says the closure in May of Bratalian for family and business reasons left her ready for a change of scenery.

“What happened with Bratalian was kind of personal, and I’m kind of hurt,” she explains, without going into details.

“Right now I actually think that Yosemite is more than a perfect place to heal and be in touch with myself. I became a Buddhist, so it’s going to be the best place for meditation ever.”

She admits, however, she’s not quite up to speed on dealing with the wildlife that roams the park — particularly bears, which she mistakenly believed hibernate during the summer months. So her encounters with several cubs this summer, while she was preparing for the new job, left her more than a little surprised.

“I was going down (the road) and I saw two of them separately. And they just stop, then go slowly, then cross the road. And they look at your face like ‘Get out of the way.’ I didn’t know what to do. Three times I had to stop. They’re not afraid of cars. I am certainly afraid of them.”

Wildlife phobias aside, the chef is clearly excited about her new adventure. But she’s left the door open for a return to Las Vegas someday.

“I love the city. I had great moments here. (And) a couple years from now, I’ll always have the possibility of coming back.”

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter.

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