(Photo by Elizabeth Kalfsbeek)
Today's Hail to the Chef spotlight is Ryan O' Malley, Head Chef at Piatti Ristorante, Sacramento.
He is also one of the competitors this Friday in the Celebrity Chef Challenge!! Have you bought your tickets?
They're $5 off of $50 when you call 916-381-1300 x170 and mention promo code "CAKEGRRL", and $10 off groups of ten or more!!
1. What made you want to become a chef?
When I was i college I worked at a small counter service Mexican Restaurant doing both prep and working "the line." (It was a two man job. One took orders, the other filled them) Around this time, I began to teach myself how to cook, mostly because I had flirted with vegetarianism (I refer to these as the dark years) and would go hungry if I could not figure out something to eat. After graduating film school and moving to Los Angeles, I had always felt that if my filmmaking career did not pan out I would go back into the kitchen. And that's what I did with great encouragement from my wife.
2. Where did you receive your training?
On the job, cookbooks, and trial and error. Although, in fairness, I did take one course at A.R.C. (American River College)
3. Who have you worked with that you have really admired?
Mike Fagnoni at Hawks. His skill, palate, dedication, and entire attitude toward cooking had a tremendous impact upon me and my career.
4. What is a typical day like for you at the restaurant?
I usually show up between 9 and 10 in the morning. Cut fish, make soup, prep any specials. 11:30, lunch line up. Expedite lunch service. After lunch, dry goods orders, phone calls, more prep, some happy hour orders. 5:00 cappuccino. 5:30, dinner line up. Expedite dinner service. Organize the walk in. Write next day's prep list. Order produce, meat, and fish. Organize the office/invoices. Check emails. 10pm, hopefully, go home.
5. What are/who are your primary cooking influences?
Southern French and Italian, although when I first began really cooking on my own I was known for my stir fry dishes.
6. What are your favorite and least favorite foods to prepare?
I love to pan roast meats and fish, and while I love to eat them, I HATE HATE HATE frying foods. Too many years of having to clean out the fryer.
7. Please tell me about your most overwhelming moment in the kitchen.
Being completely overbooked on a Saturday night at La Provence. Working as a suate cook, orders started coming in faster than I could push them out, tickets trailing from the shelf all the way down to the floor. A 30 person banquet totally forgotten about. An overall fuster-cluck. It was the first time I ever felt like I was in over my head.
Ligurian Seafood Stew with Shrimp, Clams, Mussels, Petrale Sole, Italian Butter Beans, Escarole & Saffron-Tomato Broth.
8. Who are your favorite chefs or famous chefs?
Alice Waters, for her focus on locality and simplicity, Thomas Keller, for his relentless pursuit of perfection, and Gordon Ramsay, for his drive and tireless effort.
9. White wine or red wine? Do you have a favorite wine varietal/label?
Either. But I tend to like lighter wines in both red and white. Pinots: Noir and Grigio. Not a big chardonnay or cabernet fan. Favorite label, Cheval Blanc, 1947.
10. What is your "can't live without" kitchen tool and why?
A Gray Kunz spoon. It seriously is the perfect spoon. You can sit there and stare it for hours and marvel in all of the little design features. It gives a perfect quenelle, a perfect starch portion, perfect for butter basting, saucing, and plating. All for the bargain price of $9.90.
11. Please tell me how you go about planning your menus.
What's in season. Push aside the out of season produce, keep the signature dishes, and figure out the best medium to showcase what's coming in the market. You got good peas? Risotto w. ham, mint & mascarpone. Pole Beans? Braised w. tomato, rosemary & pancetta. Mushrooms? Don't get me started. Of course pasta plays a huge role in my menus. When it comes to the entrees, I try to always serve a steak, a second grilled meat option, a braised meat in the colder months, roast chicken, and at least one fish, usually pan roasted. Once you have the basic structure, you have to look at all the possibilities that may come up ( i.e. vegan, gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant) and balance everything so that there is something for everyone. A lot easier said than done.
12. If you had a different career choice, what would it be?
I thought I was going to be an engineer from 6th grade until I dropped out of engineering school my first year at Michigan. And while I do not regret my career choice in the slightest, on those late prep nights, hellish holidays, or slow summer afternoons where the sun is out and there is not a soul in the restaurant, all I can think of is that if I had become an engineer, I probably would be at home with my family right now.
13. What are the most important things to remember (can be relative to
anything) while working as a chef?
It doesn't matter how they ordered it, if the guest says that it is under/overcooked, then it is. That, and you can't please everyone. You can and should try, but in the end, some people are just happier being miserable and there isn't a thing you, a free dessert, or even a winning lotto ticket can do about it. Move onto to the next guest and put your energy into someone whose day you can affect positively.
Bruschetta with Goat Cheese, Preserved Tomato, Nicoise Olives & Crisp Capers and the Caccuccio
14. What is the most important thing you have learned in your culinary career?
You can't achieve anything on your own. You need help and support. As a chef, you wish you could cook every dish yourself, but you can't. And that letting go is a very large and difficult leap of faith.
15. How did you become involved with the Piatti Restaurant Group?
Craigslist. My wife showed me an anonymous posting for an Italian restaurant seeking an executive chef. I emailed my resume, and 3 months, 4 interviews, and 8 courses later I took over as Executive Chef at Piatti.
Note: O’Malley served as the sous chef at Hawks in Granite Bay and helped open The Grange restaurant before landing the job at Piatti’s in April 2009.
16. How did you become involved with the InAlliance Fundraiser (Celebrity Chef Event)?
Piatti has been a supporter of In Alliance in the past and this year I was invited to compete. How could I pass up the opportunity?
17. Where is your favorite place to eat in the Sacramento area?
My house on a Sunday after going to the farmers market. Ella is pretty good, too.
18. What are your other hobbies/passions?
I'm a huge soccer fan. I love to fly fish, but with the restaurant and the family, I don't find much time to hit the river. I love a good movie. What's for dinner?
19. What are the most overused ingredients? What about under-appreciated?
Black Pepper. It has its place and its uses, but it can ruin so many things. I cringe when I see a plate come back that the guest has covered with pepper. I do love good vinegar, sherry, champagne, or red wine. Or a nice aceto balsamico on vanilla gelato.
20. Best meal ever?
Terra in St. Helena was pretty incredible. I had the best salad ever at Oliveto; fresh farm lettuces, red wine vinaigrette, and sea salt, simple and perfect. Spruce was quite memorable for the rabbit three ways. A great meal, though, is as much a product of the company and the moment as it is what comes out of the kitchen.