Chef Bruno Serato
Owner – Anaheim White House
It’s the quintessential American success story. A young man immigrates to the United States with nothing more than a dream and $200 in his pocket, works hard and creates one of the culinary world’s most respected and lauded fine dining establishments — the Anaheim White House. Renowned for its dramatic and artfully crafted Northern Italian/French cuisine as well as its elegant and historically significant setting in a mansion dating back to 1909, the Anaheim White House has counted celebrities, U.S. Presidents, dignitaries, world leaders and culinary aficionados alike as loyal patrons since its establishment in 1987. Thanks to his forward-thinking vision and an innate ability to “season” his guests’ dining experiences with a truly unique flair, Bruno Serato has traveled far from his humble roots as a busboy in Italy to create a culinary legacy that is recognized by both critics and patrons alike as among the finest in North America.
Serato traces his roots to post World War II Italy, where his family worked as shepherds and, despite their modest means, were known for providing milk and cheese to those most in need in the war-ravaged country. Though they were getting by, times proved difficult for the growing family so his parents packed up and moved to France to work the land picking potatoes and beets in the northern region, approximately one-hour’s drive from Paris. They settled in the city of Laon, and it was there that he was born and raised along with his four brothers and two sisters until the age of 11.
Serato and his family returned to Italy in 1967 and settled in Verona, the famed city of Romeo and Juliet. This proved to be a fortuitous move for the young man, who was quickly developing a palate for unique regional cuisines while achieving fluency in both the Italian and French languages. It was there that they opened the family business, a small motel complex with a restaurant called the Bar Cristallo, and Serato was called upon to wear many hats in the burgeoning enterprise including chef, waiter, bartender and maitre d’ — often all at the same time!
At the age of 20, Serato’s life took a dramatic turn as he was required to serve one year in the armed forces. He saw this as an opportunity to take a break from the restaurant business and explore other career and life options. After his military service, however, the pull was too strong and he returned to his passion.
A pivotal moment came in 1980, when Serato’s sister, Stella, told him of an opportunity at a French restaurant near her home that had just opened. She lived in Orange County, Calif., and he would have to relocate to America. This wasn’t a problem for the then 25-year-old Serato and he jumped at the chance.
Transitioning to his new life wasn’t easy, but Serato pledged to do everything in his power to thrive in his new environment. His excitement was palpable as he applied for an entry-level position at the famous La Vie en Rose in Brea. Though he couldn’t speak a word of English, he was determined to learn the language and his unbridled enthusiasm earned him a callback and within days he accepted a job as a dishwasher. While many individuals boasting his experience and breadth of knowledge in the restaurant industry would have scorned at such a lowly position, he was thrilled to be working in a renowned establishment.
Serato quickly caught the eye of the restaurant’s management team and rose through the service ranks until he was waiting tables during the coveted night shift. As his language skills improved, he enjoyed many moments of comic relief when performing his duties, such as the time a customer requested a “doggie bag” and, being unfamiliar with the term, thought the term was an insult to the chef and that the remaining portion of their filet mignon was to be discarded. After a good laugh was had by all — including the loyal customer — Serato became even more determined to master the language knowing it would be the key to his “recipe for success.”
His destiny would change again in 1984, when he became friends with a customer named Louis Laulhere. Serato enjoyed the long and interesting conversations in French he had with the gentleman, who always arrived and dined alone. It was during this period that Serato learned that, in order to create the finest dining establishment possible, no details were too small and none were to be overlooked. From the service and cuisine to the employees and their measure of devotion and reliability, no stone was left unturned in his quest for excellence. Then, just as the revamped restaurant began accumulating scores of noted awards and distinctions, Serato broke new ground personally by being named “Maitre D’ of the Year” by the Southern California Restaurant Writers.
In 1987, Serato began exploring the notion of striking out on his own. He had received many propositions over the years to oversee other fine dining establishments, but out of loyalty he remained at La Vie en Rose. But after hearing of the pending sale of the nearby White House Restaurant in Anaheim by leading area restaurateur Jim Stovall, he and Laulhere both knew that it bore the potential to become one of the finest and most beautiful restaurants in Southern California. And while leaving his home at La Vie en Rose proved to be as emotional for Serato as when he said goodbye to his family in Italy, it was a move that he knew would, once again, change his life forever.
Stovall helped Serato navigate the complex financial waters of obtaining corporate financing and within two years, Serato bought the historic property. Though they didn’t have much, their reputations as restaurateurs along with the archive of press clippings and restaurant industry awards spoke volumes on their behalf. While Serato nervously awaited the phone call that bore the possibility of literally making or breaking his future, little did he know that bank officials had as much confidence in his abilities as he did and the loan was secured. His hopes for the Anaheim White House — and his future — had received the “green light.”
Serato threw himself into redesigning the restaurant’s menu to represent contemporary Northern Italian cuisine, but with a French flair. He moved away from dishes with heavy red sauces and created new ones highlighting the lighter tastes and flavors of herbs & olive oil — a move that would help spearhead a culinary trend that would come to be known as “California cuisine.” He also took great pains to develop an unparalleled wine list and secured varietals from across the globe. Serato designed elaborate, yet historically appropriate settings within the restaurant and in the garden areas to create spaces that could accommodate intimate dinner parties or cocktail receptions for more than 450 guests. In addition, he created a catering division that had the ability to accommodate small and large parties of any theme in locations as far away as Bora Bora. These changes earned him both popular and critical acclaim and, over the ensuing years, made the Anaheim White House a draw for celebrities ranging from President Carter to Madonna.
In homage to his own humble beginnings, Serato has made it a priority to give back to those less fortunate in the community. Among the organizations that he supports are the Boys and Girls Clubs of Anaheim; Paint Your Heart Out, an organization that renovates the homes of the elderly and infirmed; and Caterina’s Girls Club, which Serato founded in honor of his mother to benefit underprivileged girls in Anaheim. His philanthropic efforts have raised nearly $1 million for various endeavors and earned him a regional distinction of which he is particularly proud, “Citizen of the Year” by the Cypress College Foundation and presented by the City of Anaheim.
As he faces the future with much the same enthusiasm that brought him to this country, Serato has earned a coveted position in Southern California’s culinary landscape. He pledges to continue doing the work that he loves with the same level of passion and devotion that has earned him legions of loyal devotees across the globe. Though he spends much of his time planning for the future, Serato still remains grounded in his roots and, to this day, tells guests a story from the early days that has kept him inspired through these many years.
“One day, the first week after we’d opened the restaurant, a woman who claimed to be a psychic said ‘Tell the owner that you have a ghost here, but that it’s a good ghost, and he will love you because you’re going to do a lot of good. This restaurant will not only be a success, but it will receive all the honors, be written up in all the local and international publications. Presidents will dine here, as well as some of the most famous people in the world.’ ‘Thanks,’ I replied. ‘I’ll be sure to tell him,’ thinking to myself, where do these people come from? It all came true, and after so many years that woman, now a friend, still dines here regularly.”
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