Chef’s Special – Executive Chef Ricardo Planas
By: Chester Simpson
Executive Chef Ricardo Planas
Union Street Public House
121 South Union Street
Old Town Alexandria
Originally from the DC area, Chef Ricardo Planas brings over 20 years of experience to Union Street. Formally trained at the French Culinary Institute, Planas has worked at some of the finest restaurants and pubs in New York City, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, including Tavern on the Green, Red Sage, Jean-Louis Restaurant at the Watergate Hotel and Café du Parc at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. Chef Ricardo has been able to make a strong impact on each of the restaurants he’s served through his vast knowledge of the world’s cuisine and his passion for incorporating fresh herbs to elevate the foods’ flavors.
When did you first become interested in cooking? Why did you decide to pursue a culinary career?
I’ve cooked since I was a kid. I watched Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and Martin Yan on weekend mornings. As for career choices, I’ve always said, I didn’t choose this life. It chose me. But I can’t imagine doing anything else. I started out in the butcher shop of an ethnic grocery store then dishwasher and on up. I’ve also been a server and bartender and a front of the house manager.
Who have been the biggest inspirations for your career?
Certainly, Chef Jean-Louis Palladin was an enormous influence on me even though I doubt he would’ve known that before he passed. He was such an extraordinarily talented cook first and foremost and he was nearly solely responsible for so many ingredients that we now take for granted being available in the US. He was cooking “farm-to-table” in 1979! Nobody knew what spring mix or mesclun lettuce was. But he went and found farmers to produce it for him. Foie gras. Truffles. All because of him… Chef Bill Telepan is another influence for his classic approach at allowing great ingredients speak for themselves and his insistence on a having a strong foundation of technique and skill. On a more personal level, my Mother would be an excellent cook if she truly enjoyed it, but she prefers baking. But she’s fostered an appreciation for being in the kitchen so deep, that I’m not even certain she realizes it.
What dish on your menu are you most curious to see how it’s received?
Certainly, I’d like them all to be well received. What makes this an even tougher question to answer is, because the menu is constantly evolving and changing, most dishes are only on the menu for the season and then they are gone. That said, I’m doing a spicy, smoked corn succotash as the garnish for fish that I’m really excited about and hope our guests will really love.
What do you do to ensure the quality of the food going out to customers?
The obvious answer is that I only work with locally sourced vendors that provide me with quality ingredients and I do. We will be serving desserts from Maribeth’s Bakery, goat cheese from Firefly Farms for heirloom tomato tarts, beef from farms in the Blue Ridge and produce from Path Valley Farms. But equally important is having a staff full of people that take pride in what they make and serve to our guests. If they are excited about what they are cooking and serving, that pride finds its way into everything they and I do.
If any chef in the world could prepare you a meal, who would it, be?
Such a tough choice but I would have to say Joël Robuchon who is a French chef and restaurateur. He was titled “Chef of the Century” by the guide Gault Millau in 1989.He operates a dozen restaurants in Bangkok, Bordeaux, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Macau, Monaco, Paris, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo, with a total of 25 Michelin Guide stars among them – the most of any chef in the world. There aren’t any adjectives that a mere mortal like myself could provide to adequately describe how amazing a Chef he is. And if we are allowed to raise the dead, James Beard would be another choice. His influence on what has become American food, is profound.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
I don’t consider good fried chicken to be a guilty pleasure but I’d choose that over a good burger or pizza pretty much every time. I try not to indulge in too much “junk” food even though I have a big sweet tooth. That said, I’m crazy about Twinkies. They are cakey, creamy cylinder of wonderfulness and in any perfect world, they would be the healthiest food imaginable.
If you would like to see your favorite chef featured here, send contact information to Chester@ChesterSimpson.com.