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January 17, 2002
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Picasso at the Bellagio

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JULIAN SERRANO/PICASSO RESTAURANT

KNPR 89.5 FM,

Nevada Public Radio

Broadcast Date: January 17, 2002

This final installment of my local celebrity chef trilogy, features someone who took dining in Las Vegas to a new level when he opened Picasso in nineteen-ninety eight (1998). Like Mary Bergin and Gustav Mauler, he has impeccable culinary credentials, but unlike them, his art is practiced in the rarified air of gourmet dining - where two hundred and fifty dollars ($250.00) can easily become a bill...for one.

Julian Serrano came to us from San Francisco, where for over a decade he was touted as being the best chef, at the best restaurant, in the mother of all food snob towns. I never ate at Masa's while he manned the stoves there, but felt like I had after reading dozens of articles about this unassuming Spaniard and his Cal-Italian take on the food of France and Spain. Needless to say, I was salivating at the chance to sample his mixed food metaphors like a very French lobster boundin sausage - served with a very Spanish sofrito sauce, or sautéed foie gras with madiera - two signature examples of his gastronomic cross-pollenation.

But Serrano is not - nor has he ever been - a fusion-confusion provocateur. He is a classically - trained chef whose deceptively simple style follows the rule of great ingredients: buy the best and don't screw them up. His unique talent lies in lightening and brightening French cuisine, thus making it both accessible and thought provoking. And like all artists, his creations never compromise vision, technique or sophistication.

Before he opened Picasso, at the Bellagio, I imagined a menu debate between he and Steve Wynn going something like this: 'Julian baby...we luv ya, we need, ya but if a whale wants a baked potato...ya got to give it to him...you're killin' me here.' To which Serrano might confidently have replied: 'Mister Wynn: if I cook it, they will come.' And so they have. And so have I, eight times since Picasso opened...to a restaurant that never fails to astonish, amuse, and excite all the senses. San Francisco's loss was our gain...and by the way, the art on the walls ain't bad either.

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