A good meal can do so many things for us. It can soothe our souls, melt away our problems and lift our spirits. No one understands that more than newly-appointed chef de cuisine Todd Richards at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead. Chef Richards brings exuberance and imagination together with expert cooking techniques and the finest ingredients from across the region to his Modern American menus at The Café. The kitchen connoisseur shares how he infuses uniqueness and personal style in his culinary creations at the regal establishment in one of Atlanta’s most posh neighborhoods. What can we say but bon appétit?
Cotton Candy: So Chef Richards, are you ever tempted to eat what you’ve created for others?
Chef Todd Richards: I mean, I have to taste dishes all day everyday to ensure that it’s great for the guest.
CC: What’s the nicest thing someone has ever told you about one of your culinary creations?
TR: Stephen Hacker [a restaurant critic for Louisville Magazine] compared my food to Michel Bras & Thomas Keller – both I would consider culinary heroes.
CC: So, we hear your favorite utensil is the spoon? We’ve got to know why!
TR: The spoon is the most versatile instrument in the kitchen. It plates, scoops, holds, whips (emulsify) and you taste food with it.
CC: What do you use for inspiration for your creations?
TR: The smell of really good food sparks my imagination. Also the seasons really play a great part in my creative juices. And great music gets my soul moving which opens the creative floodgate.
CC: Are you a picky eater?
TR: I’m really not a picky eater. I just want food served right, meaning if I order a steak medium rare it should be.
CC: How can Cotton Candy readers begin a career in culinary arts? How competitive is the field?
TR: The culinary field is so competitive right now because it is accessible to all. My suggestion for anyone wanting to start in the business is to go and work in a restaurant for a month. See if you really want to do this before wasting $8,000 to $40,000 on school.
CC: What’s the best part about working at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead?
TR: The best part of working here is living a dream. When you came to Atlanta in the 90’s this was the Mecca of dining. To be here in these walls is truly inspiring; even though I ain’t French.
CC: Do you have a favorite food? Do you ever eat fast food? What about a favorite restaurant?
TR: Favorite food to eat is eggs and rice. Can’t live without them. Fast food –Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich. I live in Grant Park and enjoy supporting restaurants in my hood. As for faves, the Shed at Glenwood, Holy Taco, Rolling Bones BBQ, In Decatur Cakes & Ale, West Midtown Star Provisions, JCT Kitchen and Aria in Buckhead. In NYC Suenos, Spotted Pig and Blue Ribbon. Ummm how much ink do you have? (Smile)
CC: Were you nervous to take on such a significant role for a regal, established brand?
TR: I wasn’t nervous taking on this job. When you’ve owned your own place and used to have to worry about making sure everything including the dumpster is right, you can’t get nervous.
CC: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
CC: So, who does the cooking at home?
TR: The microwave oven or my credit card for takeout.
CC: What’s the biggest life lesson that you learned from cooking?
TR: The biggest lesson I’ve learned in this field is friends and family don’t make great business partners.
CC: What you do for a living is a type of art, wouldn’t you say?
TR: It is an art; a deranged art at that. If you’re a painter or musician you can capture your art. For chefs, once the plate is gone, it’s never coming back the way you intended.
CC: You’ve appeared on Food Network’s Iron Chef. Would you ever do a reality show focused solely on you?
TR: I do a reality show every day at work. Think about it. We have a captive audience who judges what we do, and if you don’t do a great job, you’ll get blasted publically on blogs and such. Ain’t much difference about you and your everyday challenges and triumphs?
CC: Every job has its challenges. Tell us about some of them.
TR: The hardest challenge is always teaching cooks to cook your food. It usually takes six months to a year just to work it out. Then you have to get the wait staff to support your vision which is difficult when they have been in a place for two or more years and have clients. The biggest triumph is always with the cooks. When you show them something and you see the light bulb go off you know you’ve done a great job.
CC: You’re in a very visible position. Do you thrive in the spotlight?
TR: When you’re fat like me, you’re always in the spotlight. It never escapes you. (Laughs) So either you make the best of it or you gorge yourself on potato chips all day. Truthfully told, the spotlight is required at this level. Guests want to know so much about you, not just the food but where you went to school, are you related to this person, why aren’t you on TV more, etc.
CC: You play jazz music at home. Are there any similarities between jazz and food?
TR: Jazz and food are very similar. There are so many nuances and spontaneity in both. Also with jazz you have some many individual talents coming together as one. The kitchen is the same.
CC: What’s your favorite meal of the day: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
TR: Dinner for me is usually 10:30 pm. I say it’s my favorite because I can have bourbon with it.
CC: What do you recommend, right now, at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead?
TR: The five and seven-course tasting menus are must-haves. To sum up everything we are doing in one course is like driving a Porsche in a parking lot. You go somewhere but really – no really?
CC: Which country has the best cuisine overall, in your opinion?
TR: I look at Spain and the resurgence of Paris right now as the leaders of the food world at this moment. However we [in the United States] are gaining very fast.