Gina Marinelli – A Good Witch in the Kitchen

Two-time James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist Chef Gina Marinelli has been wowing us with her culinary creations since coming to Las Vegas in 2006. She was among the first accomplished chefs to offer outstanding dining experiences in the neighborhoods off the Las Vegas Strip.

Background and Culinary Training

Chef Gina moved around growing up, as her father was a football coach. She found her true calling after graduating as an English major at the University of Florida. She moved to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2006. She was drawn to the life of a chef because [she] “love[s] the romance of restaurants. Food is like music; you can be artistic, and if you work hard [and] put in the hours, you can go as far as you want to.”

After a stint at Roy’s in Orlando, she came to Las Vegas because she views it as “a culinary Mecca where [she] could be exposed to great chefs.” In Las Vegas, she worked under Chef Michael Mina at Knob Hill and American Fish, Chef Shawn McClain at Sage, and at celebrity Chef Scott Conant’s DOCG, where she would earn her first executive chef position and fall in love with Italian food.

Moving Off the Strip

After proving she could handle the pressure of performing at upscale restaurants on the Strip, Chef Brian Howard suggested to LEV group Founder Jeff Fine that Chef Gina would be a good fit for the new La Strega opening in Summerlin in 2019. This Italian restaurant would blossom and prove that excellent dining could exist off the Strip. Chef Gina excelled and was tasked a few years later with opening HarlØ Steakhouse & Bar in Downtown Summerlin.

In comparing the two eateries the 42-year-old chef oversees, she describes La Strega (it means witch in Italian) as “allowing me to tell my story of my seven trips to Italy, what I experienced, and what I learned about the essence of seasons. We feature regions of Italy during different times of the year.”

As for HarlØ Steakhouse & Bar, “we source the best meats possible and vegetables from a local farmer and offer exquisite service.” A current way the steakhouse allows Chef Gina to shine is a rotating four-course tasting menu of cuisine from a different country each month. In March, Greek dishes included Baked Valbreso Feta, Spaghetti with kasseri, Mediterranean-spiced Bavette with parsley butter and Diver Scallops with couscous; the April menu highlights Japan with Ocean Trout Sashimi, Sea Urchin Ramen, Halibut Katsu, and A5 Wagyu Miyasaki Striploin; and in May the flavors of Spain will be showcased.

On the job, Chef Gina describes her typical day as being a “mommy” and asserts that communication is essential.

Her day begins at La Strega around 11:30 a.m. Throughout the day, she checks on her team, helps with whatever is needed, frequently visits guests, and goes back and forth between the two restaurants (which are only a two-minute drive from each other) about three times each night.

Philosophy of Cooking

Chef says she usually comes up with recipes while having a glass of wine the night before, and after writing an idea down trying it out with her chef team, and tasting as they go. She believes “simplicity is our biggest goal, letting the ingredients shine, sourcing locally, obtaining the best proteins in the world, and seasonality is huge.”

Spare Time Enjoyment

In her off-time, Chef Gina enjoys boxing (which she calls therapy), reading, traveling with her wife Lillie, and enjoying life with their three dogs—a Goldendoodle, Labradoodle, and Poodle Terrier.

Chef Gina has proven herself to be a leader in the kitchen and the community and finds the Las Vegas culinary scene to be “exciting, maturing, and competitive.”

Fortunately for us, it appears she is here to stay, and although plans for a new concept are not yet definite, there is something in the works.