86°F
weather icon Clear

Las Vegas pizza chef conquers the gluten-free crust — VIDEO

For those with a sensitivity to it, eating anything containing gluten is a punch to the gut. But local pizzaiolo Vincent Rotolo’s drive to develop a superlative gluten-free pizza had more to do with his heart.

In 2007, the Brooklyn native was living in New York City when his girlfriend of three months was diagnosed with celiac disease.

“Nobody knew what it was,” he said. “My first reaction was denial.”

That soon turned to acceptance, and Rotolo had a mission.

“I was the general manager of a pizza shop,” he said. “I could figure it out.”

His first attempts, though, were “worse than cardboard,” Rotolo said. But at the dinner parties the couple threw, he kept trying. Then his girlfriend got a job offer in London. Rotolo, 33 at the time, opted not to go along.

“And then I realized what a mistake I made,” he said, tears shining in his eyes. “The only way to fix it was to make it better. I think the fact that I needed to heal from this mistake was the driving force.”

Rotolo kept tinkering with his gluten-free dough, experimenting with various ingredients. He was determined to succeed at developing a crust that would be as good as a regular one.

“It made me feel better about how I handled that matter,” he said. “I didn’t think about it at the time, but for me it was therapy.”

Coming to Las Vegas

At the time, the health of Rotolo’s father in Las Vegas was declining. He moved here in late 2011 with no intention of staying. And then the place started growing on him. He’d worked at Bellagio and Monte Carlo and was general manager at Flour & Barley at The Linq in March 2015. The pizzeria was trying to develop a Sicilian-style crust and Rotolo, who liked the ones at Metro Pizza, appealed to co-owner John Arena.

“The next day, he showed up at the restaurant ready to help,” Rotolo said of Arena, who was a stranger at the time, although he wouldn’t be for long. Rotolo was thinking of opening his own shop and asked Arena for advice.

“Once I lost my dad, I realized I’d better do this,” he said. “I didn’t want to look back and realize I didn’t follow my dream.”

He bought a brick oven and started making pizza at home. He’d throw “pizza parties” that, when he distributed copies of his business plan, revealed themselves as appeals for investment. By October 2016, he’d left Flour & Barley, moved on to Dom DeMarco’s on West Charleston Boulevard, quit because the job was taking too much time from his business development and was an Uber driver.

Getting competitive

Arena had encouraged him to participate in competitions and he applied to compete at the International Baking Exposition Show but got wait-listed. Late one evening he got the call: Someone had dropped out, and he could compete if he could be there at 8 in the morning. He made the dough in his brother’s garage and picked some wild arugula from his brother’s garden.

As it happened, his brother, Sal, was grilling steaks for friends. The bones inspired Rotolo to make a bone-marrow pizza.

“There were some world and national champions competing,” he said. “At that point in my life, I’d never sold a pizza.”

He finished fifth, with two of the judges scoring him in the top three.

“I was walking on air,” Rotolo said. “It was a blur.”

He also had developed an appreciation for the cooperative nature of the pizza industry. Arena didn’t charge for his advice, and Naked City owner Chris Palmeri gave Rotolo a missing ingredient during the competition.

And he met a representative from Italy’s Caputo Flour of Naples. Caputo was developing a gluten-free flour and the rep asked if Rotolo wanted to try it. Inspired by a guy at the competition who had won a trip to Italy for his gluten-free, deep-dish pizza, Rotolo decided to develop a Detroit-style version, seeing it as an emerging trend. In 2017, he placed second in the gluten-free division at the International Pizza Expo. He’s since given talks on the subject and trained other international winners in the genre.

The competition put him in the sights of the team that was developing Evel Pie in downtown Las Vegas, and he went to work there as a consultant, staying for about a year. He opened Good Pie in Pawn Plaza on Las Vegas Boulevard in early 2018 and plans to open a much larger spot in the Arts District this fall.

Today, “I’m the go-to guy for gluten-free,” Rotolo said — this despite the fact that he has no sensitivity to gluten himself.

While he says he “still has a long way to go,” he revels in the fact that 82 percent of his gluten-free customers return within a month.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction from the gluten-free/celiac community,” he said, adding that he gets up an hour early to answer emails from people who heard him talk about his quest on a recent segment of “Chopped” on the Food Network.

“I grew up as a pizza lover,” he said. “People have that connection to pizza and then it gets taken away. I’ve had grown men cry.”

“This was my ticket into big-time pizza-making,” Rotolo added. “Once I got in, I never looked back.

“It represents my childhood, a time when things in my life were innocent and pure.”

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

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
The Hangover is served at The Crack Shack in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Khine Moore, executive chef at The Crack Shack at Park MGM in Las Vegas, makes The Hangover with a fried chicken breast or thigh dipped in honey-butter, sprinkled with Crack Seasoning and topped with an egg. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dessert Before Dinner winner Becky Quan
Nine of Las Vegas’ top women pastry chefs offered original creations built around Girl Scouts Trefoils shortbread cookies Saturday night at Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada’s annual Desserts Before Dinner Gala. The top dessert, as voted on by the audience, was an homage to Good Humor’s old-fashioned Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bars created by NoMad’s Becky Quan. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Chef Sammy D is cooking again in Las Vegas
Sam DeMarco served his first public meal since returning to Las Vegas on Sunday, with a pop-up brunch at 7th & Carson. And the veteran of the First Food & Bar, Rattlecan and Sam’s American has more in store for the downtown spot. The chef, known as Sammy D. to his friends, is taking on a consulting chef role with restaurant that will see some of Sunday’s offerings added to the regular menu. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Carl’s Donuts in Las Vegas celebrates National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day
Carl’s Donuts, a Las Vegas-based company that’s been serving the city since 1966, celebrates National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day with specialties themed to fall. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rick Harrison of "Pawn Stars" has a new store - VIDEO
Rick Harrison, the Pawn Stars co-star and owner of Gold & Silver Pawn, talks to the Review-Journal’s John Katsilometes about his soon-to-open Rick’s Collection retail outlet of mostly mid-century masterworks at the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pok Pok Wing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas serves Pad Thai Thamadaa - VIDEO
Because of popular request, the 1-year-old Pok Pok Wing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas serves Pad Thai Thamadaa, with shrimp, ground pork, neither or both. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trial by Fire cocktail at the Golden Tiki in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Adam Rains, head bartender (also Grand Poobah and a few other things) at The Golden Tiki in Las Vegas, makes one of the bar’s tiki drinks, (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gordon Ramsay renovating Las Vegas steakhouse - VIDEO
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is preparing to re-launch his Paris Las Vegas restaurant, Gordon Ramsay Steak. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cats owners compete for top show awards
The annual Jazzy Cats event is taking place at the Rio Convention Center this weekend attracting cats owners from around the country and the world to compete for the top show awards. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas serves blackened Cajun catfish - VIDEO
Troy Remer, sous chef at Brooklyn Bowl at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, blackens Cajun catfish on the grill before serving it with mashed potatoes and collard greens. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Gold Encrusted Filet Mignon at Mr. Chow - VIDEO
This just may be the gold standard for the filet mignon. Mr. Chow at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas has introduced The Gold Encrusted Filet Mignon, which is coated with real 24-karat gold. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Working as a mermaid in Las Vegas - VIDEO
McKenzie Kawano works as a mermaid at the aquarium at the Silverton in Las Vegas. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pinkbox Doughnuts opens third store in Las Vegas area
Las Vegas-based Pinkbox Doughnuts, which opened its third store at 9435 W. Tropicana Ave., specializes in doughnuts such as the new Station Wagon, with Butterfinger; pink-velvet Pretty in Pink; and hybrid Glazed DoughCro Bites. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal, with image courtesy of Pinkbox Doughnuts
Starbucks brings back Pumpkin Spice early
Starbucks declares Aug. 27 the first day of fall as they make their pumpkin spice items available a full month early. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bachelor Party Fra Diavolo at Carmine’s in Las Vegas
Roberto Leon, a line cook at Carmine’s at The Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas, makes Bachelor Party Fra Diavolo with eight pounds of lobster, a pound each of mussels, clams and shrimp, two pounds of pasta and two gallons of sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'American Idol' auditions in Las Vegas
“American Idol” was in Las Vegas Monday looking for singers to compete in its upcoming 2020 season. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegan part of the Harlem Globetrotters
Scooter Christensen, who grew up in Las Vegas, will play with the Harlem Globetrotters at The Orleans in Las Vegas Sunday, Aug. 25. (Mat Luschek / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MSG Sphere at The Venetian to cost $1.2B plus
Scheduled to open in 2021, it is expected to be busier than Madison Square Garden in New York. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terra Rossa Returns To Red Rock. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terra Rossa at Red Rock Resort is set to open on Aug. 26.
Hubert Keller’s Backyard Kitchen
Chef Hubert Keller of Fleur and Burger Bar shows off his backyard kitchen in Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Watermelon Mojitos and Chicken ‘N’ Watermelon ‘N’ Waffles at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
Bartender Cassy Leedom and Chef Norberto Ortega make a Watermelon Mojito and Chicken ‘N’ Watermelon ‘N’ Waffles at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar at The Venetian in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Juan’s Flaming Fajitas in Las Vegas celebrates National Fajita Day
Cook Ruben Fuentes and general manager Taylor Pulliam of Juan’s Flaming Fajitas in Las Vegas prepare steak and shrimp fajitas with the restaurant’s signature fiery treatment. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pasta Shop Ristorante serves a watermelon-shrimp salad
Pasta Shop Ristorante & Art Gallery in Henderson serves a summer salad that combines watermelon with greens, feta and shrimp. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Factory Kitchen in Las Vegas makes classic affogato
Jorge Luque, pastry chef at The Factory Kitchen at The Venetian in Las Vegas, makes affogato with two simple ingredients - house-made gelato and fresh espresso. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review Journal with image from The Factory Kitchen)
The Cereal Killerz Kitchen serves over 100 cereals
Christopher Burns, owner of The Cereal Killerz Kitchen at Galleria at Sunset mall in Henderson, makes a Milk & Cookies Shake from his more than 100 varieties of cereal. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer in Las Vegas makes a State Fair CrazyShake
Bianca Zepeva, a shaker at Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer at The Venetian in Las Vegas, makes a State Fair CrazyShake with a kettle corn rim, caramel, corn-based ice cream, popcorn brittle, crushed kettle corn, sprinkles and a cherry. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Balboa Pizza Company makes Thai peanut chicken wings
Irma Perez, kitchen manager at Balboa Pizza Company at The District at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, near Las Vegas, brines chicken wings for 24 hours before roasting and frying them and finishing them in various styles such as Thai peanut. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
New Venetian pool deck
Final touches are currently being added to the hotel’s main tower pool deck, which consists of five pools. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who is Vegas Vic? (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada State Museum Director Dennis McBride explains the origins of the Vegas icon.
Slater’s 50/50 in Las Vegas serves a 4-pound Big Island Feast Burger
Cindy Sun, general manager of Slater’s 50/50 in Las Vegas, makes the Big Island Feast Burger with 2 1/2 pounds of the house bacon/beef blend, Napa-cilantro slaw, six slices of American cheese, a can of grilled Spam, six slices of chargrilled pineapple, four fried eggs and a drizzle of teriyaki and serves it with macaroni salad. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
 
Chef Sammy D returns to Las Vegas with pop-up brunch

Chef Sam DeMarco, also known as Sammy D, has a pop-up brunch and reveals consulting role at 7th & Carson, while NoMad chef Becky Quan wins Dessert Before Dinner competition