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Lake Life
Guillermo Salinas and his daughter Prescillia, 9, sit in Salinas’ shop, Bambino’s Bistro, on Genesee Street in Auburn. Jill Connor / The Citizen

AUBURN – Guillermo Salinas tossed into a pan select ingredients from the smorgasbord of chopped vegetables, spices and herbs that covered the kitchen counters of his Genesee Street restaurant. A splash of vodka and the pan burst into flames, a ladle of the chef’s special red sauce and the mixture calmed, sizzled and — voila! —vodka sauce.

“This,” Salinas said, “is the only thing I see myself doing.”

The chef/owner of Bambino’s Bistro has a passion for cooking, but cooking on his own terms. For Salinas, cooking is about celebrating family tradition and passing it on to the next generation. He has made Bambino’s into just that — a restaurant that serves up the home-cooked Italian cuisine guests crave and provides for his two children a childhood spent in a bustling kitchen, where they can learn to love cooking and pick up family secrets with age, just as their father did.

At Bambino’s, Salinas can have his tiramisu and eat it, too.

Bambino’s serves the traditional Italian fare made from old family recipies Salinas has been cooking for as long as he can remember — white clam sauce, pizza crust, fresh pasta and ravioli stuffed with artichoke, goat cheese and wild mushrooms. He grew up in the kitchen of the restaurant his Italian parents owned in New York City. Salinas later moved to France, along the Italian border, where he perfected his technique.

He opened his first restaurant when he was 21 and had to fight to be taken seriously. Often, he said, he’d hear the question: Where’s your dad?

“Being in business so young is a challenge because you have to be really good at what you do,” said Salinas.

Bambino’s is the chef’s fifth restaurant. In 2008, he and his wife fell in love with the Finger Lakes area and transformed the former pizza joint into the Italian restaurant of Salinas’ dreams.

It is a place where he does not have to sacrifice an excellent menu for quality time with the family, or vice versa.

As Salinas prepared for a typically busy Friday night, his 9-year-old daughter, Prescillia, helped by working the pizza dough. She hoisted a round of dough to eye level and dropped it on the counter, a cloud of flour mushrooming into her face and onto her cooking apron.

 While Salinas reminisced about cooking with his Italian parents as a child, Prescillia moved on to loaves of bread, jabbing her petite fingers into the long columns of dough and using a brush to smear them with melted butter.

When Salinas first came to Auburn, he saw a hole where an Italian restaurant should be, he said. He has made it his mission to bring to central New York the family-style Italian food he grew up with in New York City.

Business is going well, but Salinas said he has no intention of expanding or picking up a second location.

“When it’s a family-owned business, it’s good to keep it that way,” said Salinas.

Staff writer Sarah Gantz can be reached at     282-2237 or Follow her on Twitter at CitizenGantz.


Guillermo Salinas’ vodka sauce

(Serves two)

• Butter, enough to cover       bottom of pan once melted

• 1 tablespoon chopped shallots

• 1 tablespoon chopped      fresh basil

• Dried red pepper

• Splash vodka

• 1/4 cup heavy cream

• 1 cup red sauce

• Salt and pepper

• Parmesan reggiano

• Pasta, any kind

Heat a medium sauce pan and swirl to coat with melted butter. Add shallots, basil and pinch of red pepper, let sizzle. Keep pan moving, swirling ingredients so they do not stick. Add splash of vodka, holding pan away (pan will flame when alcohol added). Add heavy cream, swirl pan to mix, cook until liquid bubbles. Add red sauce, a pinch of salt and pepper. When mixture begins to broil, turn burner down. Mix in cooked pasta and Parmesan reggiano.