Piero Selvaggio’s love of food began in Sicily with his mother’s robust “cucina povera” of simple pasta, local seafood and fresh vegetables. In 1964, upon his family’s arrival in Brooklyn, New York, he soon learned that “Italian-American” food was hardly the same as classic Italian cooking.
He soon moved to the West Coast and began his career in the restaurant industry as a busboy at two of Hollywood’s most venerable landmarks – Chasen’s Restaurant and the Beverly Hills Hotel. Both experiences afforded him opportunities to learn the business and better understand the fascination with glamour in Los Angeles. After he graduated from college in 1972, Selvaggio opened the now legendary Valentino restaurant in what was once a run-down bar. The restaurant won immediate acclaim. The Los Angeles Times gave it a rave review during its first month.
According to Saveur magazine, “Los Angeles was in bland tomato sauce and soggy pasta in 1972 when Piero opened Valentino in Santa Monica. Before long, with its kitchen turning out refined dishes from top quality ingredients, Selvaggio’s restaurant had become one of LA’s best, and the Wine Spectator and Gambero Rosso took notice, describing Valentino among the very best in America, among the top 10 Italian restaurants, and it remains so. A 100,000+-bottles wine cellar makes it all the better.”
By the early 1990s, Selvaggio and his team at Valentino were routinely recognized for their achievement and insistence for high standards in food and service. Valentino was awarded the #1 spot of the top three restaurants in the country by Wine Spectator in 1995 and #1 by Ruth Reichl, then the restaurant critic of the New York Times, who praised Valentino as the best Italian restaurant in America. In 1996, Selvaggio was the recipient of the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Service Award. In 1997, Valentino rated #1 in Wine Spectator’s list of “America’s 10 Best Italian Restaurants,” was voted “America’s Top Table” among Gourmet magazine’s readers, and received the California Restaurant Association Educational Foundation Hall of Fame Award. Selvaggio was given the Cavaliere Award by the President of the Sicilian region for his significant contribution to the image of Italian Heritage. Selvaggio and Valentino were awarded the Restaurants and Institutions’ 2000 Ivy Award of Distinction, and Wine Spectator named Valentino as having “one of the greatest wine cellars of them all.”
Selvaggio steadfastly keeps his ties with Italy through food, wine, culture, events and activities, finding every opportunity to promote Italian culture. In fact, the restaurant is proudly part of the Italian government’s “Marchio Ospitalità Italiana" Quality Campaign which recognizes the select few restaurants that meet the highest standards of excellence and authenticity. Piero is also immensely proud of his Sicilian heritage and the development of the island, especially his native area of Modica, rich with Baroque and Arab traditions. The people of the island recognize him as the most famous Sicilian “ristoratore” of the world, as well as a source of inspiration and an esteemed figure of accomplishment. Selvaggio has been honored at a ceremony in New York City where he was inducted into The VINO 2009 Distinguished Service Hall of Fame.
Today, Valentino has expanded its dining areas and created the innovative vin bar, called V Bar, while continuing to host celebrities and important clientele. Selvaggio’s philosophy of offering classic, yet innovative Italian cuisine ensures a kitchen that preserves authenticity and guests that feel welcome at this unparalleled dining venue.