Gina Marinelli of La Strega and Harlo nominated for James Beard award

Chef and owner Gina Marinelli at La Strega. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @benjamin ...

Being an executive chef makes for an extremely busy career — even with just one busy restaurant under your watch. Simultaneously becoming top toque for a wildly popular second establishment? Double the workload. Be named a semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation Award like Gina Marinelli? Triple your duties.

But with an ever-present smile, she’s taking all the excitement of being named in the highest echelon of American chefs in a calm, cool and collected stride befitting a champion.

In recent years, Marinelli has gained broad exposure as chef/partner at La Strega, an elegant and adventurous Italian establishment in southern Summerlin — more braised rabbit with carrot polenta than spaghetti and meatballs. Then, last winter, she took on the same role at the impressive Harlo Steakhouse &Bar in Downtown Summerlin — here chilled seafood towers and 14-day dry-aged ribeyes command the handsome, energetic room. (Both restaurants are owned by the same company.)

After the February announcement naming her as one of three Beard Foundation Award semifinalists in the Southwest, Marinelli said both of her restaurants became more popular than ever
— especially among Summerlin residents not yet familiar with the establishments. And she knows she and her teams are in an even brighter spotlight than before. “We have this thing that’s hovering over us — it’s an honor, and we want to live up to it every day.”

Before plying her trade in the suburbs,
Marinelli graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Florida. From there she embarked on a successful career on the Strip, including working in kitchens at Nobhill Tavern, American Fish, Sage and D.O.C.G Enoteca.

Marinelli said the whole team is reveling in the glow of the nomination, from back to front of house — everyone contributes to making the culinary magic happen.

“I think personally, I’m pushing myself a bit more,” Marinelli said. “It’s exciting to get to this spot.”