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December 14, 2018

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Chef Julian Serrano’s tapas restaurant at Aria: ‘My dream had come true’

Julian Serrano-Aria


Julian Serrano at Aria.

Robin Leach's Vegas DeLuxe

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Julian Serrano's seafood paella.

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Chef Julian Serrano.

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Masa Takayama, Shawn McClain and Julian Serrano at Vdara on Nov. 5, 2010.

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Mayor Oscar Goodman, Bellagio President Randy Morton and Chef Julian Serrano at the Champagne Saber-Off for Bon Appetit Vegas Uncork'd at the Bellagio on May 5, 2011.

Editor’s Note: One of today’s guest columnists is Chef Julian Serrano of Picasso at Bellagio and Julian Serrano at Aria while Robin Leach takes his well-deserved annual vacation to Europe (follow him on his travels at Every day, a new column, plus the usual Strip Scribbles, Tonight’s Tips and Tomorrow’s Teases -- and you never know what Robin will dig up in the wine country north of Rome, so please check back daily.

By Julian Serrano

Hello, All,

This is Julian Serrano, the chef/creator for Picasso at Bellagio and Julian Serrano at Aria.

For about 15 years, I had a goal of opening a restaurant that represented the food of Spain. The food of Spain represents the people of Spain. The people are happy, they share, they like to go out and have a good time. Even when things aren’t always good, they still go out and enjoy themselves. The food they share sparks conversation. They drink wine, and they laugh. I wanted a restaurant that reflected all of that.

About a year and a half ago, I reached my goal. When MGM Resorts International offered me a restaurant space at Aria, I said, “Only if I can do tapas.” With 13 years of success at Picasso, I got their full support.

First, I knew I needed to find the perfect designer, so I flew to Spain and began to interview. I wanted to find someone whose ideas I liked, but also someone who understood what I wanted. I had a strong vision, and when I found Gente de Valor, I knew we were on the same page.

I feel that balance in a restaurant is important. The food needs to go with the restaurant, and the restaurant needs to go with the food. If it doesn’t, people will leave unhappy. Picasso is consistent; the food, the wine, the service and the decor all go together. I wanted this restaurant to be the same way.

Gente de Valor had their own ideas, but they also listened to my opinion, and we started to put the pieces together of a restaurant that reflected the vibrant culture of my country and had a good sense of balance.

Once I found my designer, I needed to find my chef. A friend of mine told me about Jose Lopez Picazo, so I flew to Washington, D.C. to meet with him. We clicked right away. We are both from Madrid, we’re around the same age, and we like the same food. He understood the food I wanted to make, and we began to create a menu.

Because the restaurant’s kitchen wasn’t ready yet, we had our first tasting in the employee dining room. Several top executives from throughout MGM Resorts’ properties were there, but none of them were from Food & Beverage. I liked that. These people were going to be tough critics. We had about only 40 minutes to serve 25 to 30 dishes, and despite a few obstacles, they were blown away.

I started to have a good feeling about the restaurant. Everything was starting to come together, and the closer we got to the opening, the better I felt. We were expecting about 600 people a day, and by Day 3, we were serving nearly 1,000 guests. The staff was exhausted but happy because the guests were responding so positively, and you could tell it was sincere. My dream had come true.

I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve, but I couldn’t be happier with the success of Julian Serrano at Aria. Making money was never important to me: Representing my country and creating a great restaurant that people enjoy was always my goal.

Restaurants like this need a lot of support, and I was lucky to have a company behind me that gave me the patience and support to achieve my vision. I’m proud of both of my restaurants, and being able to create a place that reflects Spain makes me a very happy chef.

Tomorrow, welcomes Palace Station headliner comedian Louie Anderson and Lisa Dawn Miller of Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show. Guest columnists this year include Holly Madison, Donny Osmond and cast members of Jubilee!, Absinthe and Jersey Boys, along with Chef Charlie Palmer and Pawn Stars favorite Austin “Chumlee” Russell, plus other surprises including nightlife analysis by Jesse Waits and Jack Colton.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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