Chef Chas La Forte: Renaissance Man

Chas La Forte
Photo by Diane Taylor

Chas La Forte’s wife, Kandes, calls him a renaissance man.

Chas’s specialty these days is Italian food as Chef of Salvatore’s Ristorante Italiano at the Sun Coast Hotel & Casino. In California, he cooked for actors and owned seven restaurants, one a French restaurant named after his daughter.

In Las Vegas, Chas sometimes gives his restaurant’s hired entertainment a brief beak when he grabs a microphone and sings to customers.

If diners knew Chas La Forte better, they would also know he’s a writer, actually studying journalism in college. He once sold a screen play and several years ago wrote a book that prompted then-mayor Oscar Goodman to declare a “Chas La Forte Day” when his book was published.

In addition, Chas is a proud father of two children, Charles Christopher and Lisa Mignon.

Chas La Forte, the crooner, entertaining customers at Salvarore’s Ristorante Italiano.
Photo by Diane Taylor

One of Chas’s lovely lines is, “He hides his youth within.”

Chas grew up in Buffalo, New York. The Scinta family, well known in Las Vegas as entertainers, were neighbors, and Joey Scinta once sang with Chas, who as a youngster dreamed as becoming a professional singer.

Chas’s Italian father (the family name was somehow changed from Lo Forte to La Forte) thought Chas needed “a real job” and should return to school.

Chas had liked to write poems and stories…so he studied journalism at the University of Buffalo working at local restaurants to pay the tuition.

Married and a father at a young age, Chas found that journalism didn’t pay enough to support his young family, so he moved to California thinking he might eventually be able to join his brother who had a chiropractic office there.

Chas worked in California restaurants while finding out that chiropractic studies weren’t practical for him. Among his jobs was running the commissary at DesiLu Studios, later Paramount. Eventually he opened his own restaurants, all of which were designated “best of” restaurants. In all, Chas spent 37 years in California. A divorce was expensive in terms of giving up restaurants, but eventually Chas met Kandes, his new partner, and started over.

Chas La Forte’s , self-published book has chapter titles such as “Who is She?”, “Speak to Me of Wealth”, “My Harried Thoughts” and “Fear Not”.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Throughout his life, Chas would take the time to write. He hand wrote his thoughts in a notebook or on slips of paper (he has great handwriting); he wrote love notes to his wife. He found that the creative part of his brain not only was satisfied by developing new food combinations, but also by putting on paper the thoughts and feelings he had, good or bad.

Chas credits his father for his love of words. His father had a large collection of books and insisted that his sons become readers and appreciate words. “I grew up with that,” Chas recalls. “And I didn’t like math.”

One of the aspects of reading that Chas loved was the use of words like “thee” and “thou” and other Elizabethan expressions. He said the older style added heft to whatever story he was reading. He often uses Elizabethan expressions in his writing.

In Buffalo, Chas knew a local boxer named Joey Giambra, who also owned a local pool room. Chas reconnected with Joey in California and met him again in Las Vegas after Chas and his wife moved to Las Vegas.

“Joey had a large collection of memorabilia from his life and wanted to organize it into a book,” Chas explained. “I agreed to help him with the project, and eventually we turned his story into a screen play that was purchased by a movie company. We were paid for the screen play, but it never got produced. Nonetheless the project had me doing a lot of writing every day to keep sharp, and that’s when the idea of my own book came about.” A friend, artist Jim Severson, agreed to come up with drawings to illustrate Chas’s writing.

Chas La Forte’s book is printed in a style that represents a notebook or diary. Illustration is by Jim Severson.
Photo by Diane Taylor

The final book, “An Appetite for Life” is a series of essays and rhymes, covering a range of topics, Elizabethan words included. Chas’s book even includes a couple recipes written in a way to excite any palate.

Backtracking a bit, Chas and his wife came to Las Vegas in 1997 when Chas was offered the job as chef at Fellini’s Italian Restaurant on Charleston, a spot popular with local politicians and sports figures. When the recession was in full bloom and Chas had an offer to become chef at a restaurant at the Sun Coast, he then moved to the Sun Coast where Salvatore’s is one of two fine dining restaurants at the facility.

Though Chas still loves the life of a chef, he knows that retirement is in his future. He has written enough new essays to put in another book. He says he might also write a blog. At the same time, he and his wife want to continue to see the world by traveling “and shoring up relations with old friends and family”. A trip to Sicily would be a plus, and who knows…give Chas a microphone and that long-ago dream of becoming a singer might take hold as well.

“Appetite for Life” is available from the Chef. The price is $20.

Chas La Forte and his wife, Kandes.
Photo by Diane Taylor

From Appetite for Life:

“Regrets are wasted bits of time
Remorse shall cleanse us from within
But memories are to be treasured cloaks
When our lights begin to dim”

Below is Chas’s version
of ingredients for
“Newly Harvested Figs
Embraced in Proscuitto”

“Nine unsullied supple figs
A modicum of culture achieved from the milk of a goat
Pine nuts, having been blessed by the glow of an open fire
Petite petals of thyme that hath the presence of morning dew
Four sheer shavings of Proscuitto
Newborn arugula, the amount of two chalices
Unfettered olive oil, sufficient to fill a robin’s egg
The nectar of a ripened lemon
Salt and Pepper to only achieve satisfaction
Fig infused Vincotto (a rare nectar)”

And one more line…..

“Remember me merely as an aged man whose life as just begun.”


4 responses on “Chef Chas La Forte: Renaissance Man

  1. Congrats old Buddy…I feel blessed to have shared a small slice of your past….growing up in the old neighborhood….playing baseball in the middle of Oxford ave…playing chess on your front porch…walking to Mineo’s with two or three empty pop bottles to cash them in for a cherry pie…the time you stuck a pitch fork in my right foot in the “field” behind your house….ah, the memories…..there are many more….beautifully written article….again, my congrats…and looking forward to the next time we can stand together face to face..and a warm embrace..might bring a tear to the eye…

    your old Buddy….Joe

  2. From Gerri Fahrer (whose phone wouldn’t forward her comment): “What a great story. It’s a lucky woman married to a man with such talents. You make the reservation at Salvatore’s and I will be there.”

  3. Hi Charles,
    I never got to know you at PS 56, but what an interesting person you turned out to be!
    You probably don’t remember me, the Janine that was an Elvis fanatic (not the J. you had a crush on).You probably know by now that Joe Guercio –from Buffalo–was his orchestra leader.
    I moved to the San Diego area for high school and got stuck there–never liked CA, esp. So. Cal.
    It would be interesting to hear what became of all of our classmates. I heard from FRankin Tartaglione a few years ago. We were always up to mischief. I love Italian food and sometimes his mother, waiting for his dad to come home, would give me an early dinner.
    I hope you’ve read Charles Hobbie’s Buffalo Wings. It’s a very good memoir. Writing seems to be in more than one of our classmates’ genes–certainly yours! I’ve been encouraged to write my memoirs too.
    Hope you make it to Sicily! A friend who went to school there brought the Italian version of Solitary Man back. It’s by Gianni Morandi & Ennio Morricone – Se Perdo Anche Te (Solitary Man). Give a listen on You Tube. How indelicate of me but Neil Diamond’s stinks by comparison.
    I now live in New Orleans but am hoping to move back to Buffalo! Long for the autumn!

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