5@5 - Kitchen tips from dad
June 17th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

All too often we read and hear about fond memories of grandmother's chocolate pie or Mom's goulash - but sometimes, it's dear ol’ dad that deserves the culinary credit.

Family-run Rao's Restaurant has been a New York City (and restaurant bucket list) mainstay since 1896. Several generations later, Frank Pellegrino Jr. has carried the Rao's family flame to Sin City - and he couldn't have done it without his father, Frank Pellegrino, Sr.

I was brought to work at Rao’s by my dad, Frank Pellegrino, Sr., in my early teens. My first position there was busboy, where he taught me dining etiquette and pointed out to me the importance of watching our guests and sensing their needs before they did.

Once I had a handle on working the dining room floor, my duties were expanded when I was placed in the kitchen to learn how to prepare all the appetizers on our menu for our guests.

Five Things My Father Taught Me in the Kitchen: Frank Pellegrino, Jr.

1. "The first order of business was to learn how to shuck a clam for one of our most popular dishes, Clams Oreganata. Needless to say, for a 13-year-old it was a daunting task; opening clams was equivalent to cracking a bank vault. But with a great deal of patience and tutelage from my dad it became second nature to me.

You place a clam in the palm of your hand, with the back joint of the clam resting on the pad of your palm. Slide a clam knife into the top left opening of the clam. Slide the clam knife towards you and wiggle it in. Use your fingers to help guide the knife in.

Once you get into the shell, you pop the clam open by twisting the knife up. Follow the top part of the shell with the knife to loosen, then along the bottom half of the clam and remove the top of the shell.

By the time I was 14, I could shuck a bushel of clams in no time at all. To this day, I still help my team shuck clams when they are in need."

2. "Once I had the clam shucking down, my father insisted that I learn how to prepare the stuffing for the clams. He had this recipe down to a science measuring by sight and taste. I was taught to do it the same way by him. Heaven forbid if a guest said the dish tasted different. I would be re-schooled on how to prepare it, over and over again until I was able to make it with my eyes closed.

Little did I know at the time that different variations of this stuffing would complete some other very spectacular dishes, that I still prepare to this day for my guests at Rao’s in Caesars Palace."

3. "My father taught me how Rao’s food should be plated and garnished. You may not think of this as all that important, but it provided me with a greater understanding of how all of one's senses are heightened when they see a dish that is robust in portion, color and aroma.

On another level, he quietly taught me that the presentation of our food was in essence part of the restaurant's identity that we still execute today in both of our restaurants."

4. "After learning how to prepare all of the appetizers on our menu, I graduated to pasta. For me, this was truly the beginning of my culinary experience.

My father, Aunt Anna and Uncle Vincent taught me numerous techniques that I certainly utilize to this day, such as cooking pasta perfectly al dente, adding salt to the water incrementally until we know it is the right amount by its taste, carrying more flavor to the sauce.

Il segretto is an important technique that I continue to use: perfectly cooked al dente pasta is finished by tossing the pasta in its prepared sauce that has been heated in a sauté pan. This allows the pasta to absorb the flavor of the sauce."

5. "My father taught me how to season olive oil in a sauté pan with a clove of peeled garlic, subtly infusing the taste of the garlic into the oil without burning the garlic or the oil. This is ideal for sautéing vegetables, and various sauces for superb pasta dishes.

Over the twenty-plus years working with my father at Rao’s in New York City, he taught me the foundation and tradition of our cuisine, from dressing a salad to quartering a chicken to making our marinara sauce.

If it were not for my father and family, I’d probably would still be a busboy."

Whether domestic god or kitchen klutz, share your fondest cooking memories with your own father or father figure in the comments.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Bite • Father's Day • Holidays • Think

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Chef du Cinema

    The idea for doing Broadway Danny Rose came from one simple statement made by Mia Farrow to her then husband Woody Allen over dinner at Rao’s, a popular New York restaurant they would frequent. Farrow, Allen recalled, “wanted to play Mrs. Rao, Annie Rao, who we knew and would see up at the restaurant all the time. And I wanted to play a different kind of character, not a neurotic, literate New Yorker. And one of the characters I can play... is a lowlife. It just [laughs] comes kind of naturally.”

    I did one of my Chef du Cinema classes on Broadway Danny Rose. You can read more of my class notes and I've also got a recipe for NY Deli-Style Kosher Garlic-Dill Pickles @ http://chef-du-cinema.blogspot.com/2010/11/movie-broadway-danny-rose.html

    June 22, 2011 at 3:48 am |
  2. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    Love me some clams, can tell you how to dig them up, too. Razors are feisty mofo's, but digging for butters is like striking gold. Especially when you find one as big as your fist.

    June 19, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • TNT

      I don't know how to either, JDizzle. I do believe you're supposed to wear clam diggers, tho. 😄

      June 16, 2014 at 8:38 am |
    • clammerhammer

      Go out on an exposed muddy sandbar at low tide. Look around and if there are clams in the area you will see water splatter marks in the mud from the clams spurting water out. Don't know why they do this they just do. Find the origination point of the water spurt and dig a couple of inches down with your rake for your clam. This is the easiest and least dirty way.

      July 5, 2014 at 10:44 am |
  3. The Polack Griller

    3 Polish Grilling rules from my Dad–
    1. Do Not fart around the Grill,it is a sacred place.
    2. Do Not beat your meat within view of the Grill,it has a negative taste on the final product.
    3. Get me another cold beer son,it's hot out here. :)))

    June 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  4. IceT

    My Father showed me how to hunt, fish, garden, cook, grill & bake. Thanks, Dad, without your tutelage my kids wouldn't stand a chance .. their Mother "literally" has BURNED instant pudding more than once! LOL

    June 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  5. Epidi

    My father was a chef. He ran his kitchen like the Marine he was in his former career, lol. Mostly I got KP duty in the kitchen. But I do recall how he was a stickler about washing one's hands often and how to use a knife well without cutting myself. How to wash the dishes/pans/utensils as I finish using them so as not to have such a big mess after the meal was prepared, because he said, "How the hell can you enjoy your meal if you know you've got such a big damn mess to clean up later?!" I still think this was his excuse to have me wash everything up but I still do it that way today and he was right about not having the big mess to worry about later. He also taught me how to use the power tools in his workshop much to my husband's delight.

    June 19, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Chef Sun

      Excellent advice and something that I try to instill in my kitchen crew. Having the sink pile up also prevents you from using it when needed. My dad was also a chef and he really wanted me out of the kitchen. Ironically I now have dual careers in the culinary and photographic arts.

      June 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  6. Humor

    I learned most of my cooking from Grandpa and Dad. Grandpa showed me how to make a big healthy stew from cheap ingredients that his family made during the Depression, and Dad showed me how to put together meals and grocery shop on a budget.

    June 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  7. Justin Bieber

    Nothing like a dad showing his daughter how to make a perfect sandwhich for him in the future.

    June 19, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  8. Jason

    No grease trap handy? No problem. "Son, paper towels are absorbent for a reason. Just don't burn yourself or your mother will skin me alive."

    June 19, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  9. Nick

    A disappointing article. the first tip actually had some detail, but how many dads in America will actually shuck oysters this weekend, much less this entire summer? The remaining "tips" didn't include enough content to make them of any value to the reader.

    June 18, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Chef Sun

      He was talking about clams. Oysters are out of season in most places right now.

      June 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  10. Jray

    I learned a lot from my Dad, but it was all about grilling. I really learned how to cook in the kitchen from my mother, where it was all about Italian and fresh ingredients. Like it or not, life is not all about steaks.

    June 18, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  11. Cole

    I love how the man still rolls up his sleeves and gets down to business.

    Can't say I learned many kitchen lessons from dad; although, I give him credit for allowing/humoring me to experiment in the kitchen and joining/encouraging me in eating my many, many unsuccessful creations.

    June 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
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