One of the city’s most popular chefs is leaving Las Vegas.
A native of New Jersey, Geno Bernardo was recruited by the original N9NE Group executive team to open Nove Italiano at the top of the Palms’ Fantasy Tower in 2006. Over the years, Bernardo helped build Nove into one of the best Italian restaurants in the city, and one of the friendliest upscale casino venues for locals.
Bernardo’s last day at the Palms is January 12. He’s going back to the East Coast to live in Manhattan and work for celebrity chef David Burke’s company. “I was just ready for a bigger challenge,” Bernardo says. “You know, as a chef, that’s the thing. I think the day-in-day-out routine was getting to me. I want to be able to do more as a chef. I look at guys like David, or Wolfgang Puck or Mario Batali, and think, ‘How do I get there?’ It was time for me to make this move.”
While the Palms is in a state of change with multiple dining and nightlife venues under renovation or coming online soon, no plans for changes to Nove have been announced. Bernardo’s longtime sous chef, Patty Forrestier, is also moving on this month, to the revamped Red Square at Mandalay Bay.
Chef Geno was truly an active member of the local culinary community. He held regular cooking classes at Nove and other venues, sourced ingredients from farms in Pahrump, and participated in local foodie events like Project Dinner Table. He spoke with the Weekly this morning about his big move.
Was this a long time coming? Not too long. I’ve been thinking about moving on for the last six months. I’ve done so much at Nove, but as a chef, you know, you want something bigger and better. A lot has changed. There are only a couple of us left from the original regime. So it was time to start thinking where I could go and find a bigger challenge.
What kind of opportunities were you looking for? I almost went to Hong Kong. I was in touch with a [restaurateur] who has been there for 25 years and was looking to open two or three Italian restaurants. But those projects were delayed. They’re probably two years away. I was thinking about that a lot. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that.
How did the David Burke connection happen? I met David a few years ago when he had a restaurant at the Venetian, and one of our general managers went over there. They called me up four or five months ago and I was entertaining offers, then at Thanksgiving I went back to the East Coast and met with David in New York. We had a solid talk. He has a lot of cool concepts and he’s really an innovator in certain things. He’s known for being kind of playful, where I’m more dedicated to my style and doing things the way they’ve been done in Italy for thousands of years. So there are a lot of things he does that are interesting to me. He’s got a small empire, seven restaurants in four or five cities.
Will you be working at one restaurant? It’s all about getting to New York, getting into those restaurants, learning the system and finding out what needs to be done. But it will be more like bouncing around to different restaurants and making sure everything is tight. He’s spread out a little thin and you can’t be everywhere at once. But after I prove myself and show him what I’m made of, I really want to put an Italian concept together.
You’ve been living in Las Vegas and working at the Palms since 2005. This must have been a tough decision. It’s extremely tough. I’m not going to lie. When you’ve been somewhere so long, you wonder if you’re making the right move. This past week, I’ve seen so many people who have supported me over the years coming in to say goodbye, saying it’s their last meal at Nove. And I don’t want that. I hope the people that believe in what we created will continue to come here. But it’s hard, knowing that there’s this bond I built with a lot people. I get choked up.
What do you think you’ll miss most about Las Vegas? Oh my god, so many things. Going out to the farm in Pahrump and having that interaction, and being one of the first chefs here to do that. Just being a kid from the East Coast, a city boy, and actually meeting a farmer and building that bond. I mean, I’m leaving my dog here with my farmer! Playing golf at Southern Highlands. And the cooking events, I’m going to totally miss that scene. I’m moving to a city where it’s huge. New York is endless, more restaurants than anything, and developing ties with chefs might be tough there. It was so easy to build great relationships with everyone in the culinary industry here.