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On Food Network’s new show Kitchen Casino, Mondays at 9|8c, host Bill Rancic doles out gambling-themed games to chefs competing to win the $30,000 jackpot. Bill isn’t new to television. He got his start as the first winner of The Apprentice, and he and his wife star in their reality show Giuliana and Bill. When he’s not busy in front of the camera or looking after the restaurant group he’s a part owner of, behind the scenes Bill’s a simple guy who loves simple food.
Bill knows his way around a kitchen, and he loves cooking Italian food. He does admit that he has had some not-so proud moments in the kitchen, but that hasn’t lessened his appreciation for food or stopped him from trying new things. You might be surprised to learn that he got started in the food business at the age of 10, when he had his own secret restaurant at home — and he’s been a savvy businessman and foodie ever since.
Get to know Bill Rancic better in FN Dish’s exclusive interview.
How would you describe your kitchen skills?
BR: My kitchen skills are pretty good. I’m a partner in a restaurant group called RPM restaurants; we have RPM Italian and RPM Steak in Chicago, and we have RPM Italian opening in Washington, D.C. So I am certainly familiar with high-velocity kitchens. Our chef partner, Doug Psaltis, has certainly showed me some skill in the kitchen. He worked for Alain Ducasse for many years and was the executive chef for The French Laundry before joining us as a partner.
Have you had any disasters in the kitchen that you would admit to?
BR: I’ve had a lot of disasters in the kitchen. I was cooking my wife dinner for our anniversary. I was doing Neapolitan-style pizzas and I had this pizza stone in the oven. Basically, the kitchen caught on fire. It was a disaster. And we were at the Trump Hotel here in New York. Management had to come up and open up all the windows. It was a mess.
What’s your go-to recipe?
BR: My go-to recipe is typically Italian, certainly something that I know because of the restaurant. And my wife was born and raised in Naples, Italy. I love cooking Italian food and I also love to grill. I have a great grill in my backyard. It gets up to 800 degrees. I’ve been cooking a lot of bison lately. I tell you what, it is quite delicious.
What would be your ideal dinner?
BR: I’m pretty simple. I have a very simple palate. I prefer dishes that contain three or four ingredients, tops. That’s a lot of what we do in our restaurants. We don’t have 12 or 13 ingredients in a dish. I think it’s just too complicated. And for me I can’t appreciate that. I love a nice bucatini pomodoro. I try to go with smaller dishes. I’d rather have many small dishes than one or two big dishes. I just like to kind of get a taste of everything and to just enjoy my meal.
Who’s your favorite person to cook with?
BR: It was my grandma. My grandma taught me how to make pancakes at the age of 10. And I wound up opening a makeshift restaurant in her house on the weekends. I’d cook for the elderly ladies in the neighborhood and they would all leave five-dollar bills underneath their plates. I did that until my mom found out what I was doing. She put an end to that. She claimed I was fleecing them out of their Social Security checks. God rest her soul, my grandma was the one who really got me involved in the kitchen. Then my mom encouraged it a lot. At home my wife doesn’t cook, so I do all the cooking.
Is there a food you can’t live without?
BR: Dessert — I have one heck of a sweet tooth. I’m not a big drinker, but I tell you what, I love desserts. I love anything sweet. But actually I’ve been dessert-free since January, so I’m trying to cut back on the sweets a little bit. I’m trying to be a little bit healthier.
What’s your favorite food city and why?
BR: My favorite food city is clearly Chicago — not only because we have two restaurants there, but it’s a town you can literally eat your way through, from Giordano’s deep-dish pizza to the incredible independent-restaurant scene, like the Girl and the Goat. I can go on and on. We have some really incredible chefs in Chicago that are now finally getting the recognition they deserve. There’s great barbecue at a place called Bub City. They have some of the best ribs I’ve ever had — their dry-rubbed rib makes me feel like I’m on Beale Street in Memphis, which is amazing.
Visit the Kitchen Casino page for more behind-the-scenes content.