Chef Celestino Drago becomes 'Cavaliere Celestino'

Chef Celestino Drago will be known hereafter in Italy as 'Cavaliere Celestino'

Just call him "Cavaliere." Owner Celestino Drago, of Drago Centro and numerous other Southern California Italian restaurants through the years, has been knighted by the Italian government.

Drago, a native of Sicily, came to Los Angeles in 1979 as chef at the Italian restaurant Orlando Orsini. A few years later, he opened his first restaurant, Celestino, in Beverly Hills. Then came Drago in Santa Monica, Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills, and Enoteca Drago and Drago Centro in downtown Los Angeles.

The knighting ceremony took place Sunday with the chef’s family, friends, colleagues and members of the Italian community in Los Angeles in attendance. Giuseppe Perrone, the consul general of Italy, did the honors. Drago was honored “for his exemplary contributions to the preservation and advancement of Italian culture and traditions.”

The event was held at Drago Centro in downtown Los Angeles. Drago says he doesn’t ever give a party for himself, but for this occasion, his staff insisted.

He invited the family -- there are 40 of them. And he invited 40 more friends and colleagues, including the Orlando brothers, who brought him to this country from Italy, and Jerry Magnin, who owned Chianti Cucina where Drago was opening chef and who encouraged the young chef to open his own restaurant. Drago also invited Marvin and Judy Zeidler, saying, “I saw what Italy means to Americans through them.” And, of course, “all my brothers who followed me to this country one by one,” his wife, Leslie, and his two teenage daughters Olivia and Francesca.

“That was cool, very cool,” Drago said when I called to ask about the award. “It felt great. It’s a great recognition. I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but I’m sure somebody saw me do something good for the country, the family, the people here, something pure and honest. I don’t know what to say, I was very pleased and honored.”

The next time Drago goes back to his native Sicily, he will be known and referred to as “Cavaliere Celestino.”

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