Sara Ramirez
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How a Lesbian Chef Learned to Run a Kitchen From Her NFL Dad

Chef Gina Marinelli

This piece initially ran in Out magazine. Read it on Out.com here.

The best advice Gina Marinelli, executive chef of Las Vegas Italian hotspot La Strega, ever received about how to run a restaurant came from one of the top minds in the NFL — her dad Rodney Marinelli, the defensive line coach for the Las Vegas Raiders.

“I had him come in and speak to the team, and he said, ‘A lot of places say this is my family, the restaurant is my family. But in a family, the strongest person carries the weakest,’” she recalls. “‘To be successful in business, you cannot be a family. It will never work. You have to be a brotherhood and a sisterhood and that’s about accountability.’”

While it might seem like football and food are unlikely to commingle, other than at the sports bar or over the chip-and-dip bowl, Marinelli has a lifetime of inspiration and wisdom from her dad to prove otherwise.

 

Tiger Prawns with Italian Cherry Butter and Spinach

Tiger Prawns with Italian Cherry Butter and Spinach

 

“I was really fortunate how I was brought up. He wasn’t trying to coach me, he was trying to guide me. Always thinking of the future — who do you want to be? What type of person do you want to be? When I was five, I was getting magazines all the time, to get ready to look at what colleges to apply to. He kept me very structured,” she says.

That mindset empowered Marinelli to write her own narrative — from her cooking, to her business, to her personal life. While Las Vegas is not known for its neighborhood eateries, La Strega, located on the west side of the city, began to redefine the local dining landscape when it opened in 2019. Formerly, Marinelli worked alongside chefs on the Strip such as Michael Mina at Nobhill Tavern, Sven Mede at American Fish at Aria, Shawn McClain at Sage at Aria, and James Beard-winning chef Scott Conant at D.O.C.G. Enoteca at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

It was at D.O.C.G. that her love for all the delicacies of Italy sparked. “That’s really when it just dialed in for me — this is the food I want to cook, and I kept going back to Italy,” she says. Travels took her to the country’s Amalfi Coast, Sicily, and Bologna to immerse herself in authentic Italian cuisine.

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