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15 Questions With Chef Ryan Rondeno

Louisiana native, Ryan Rondeno began as a prep cook in New Orleans around 16 or 18-years-old, under Chef Jamie Shannon (Commanders Palace). He also worked under the direction of Chef Anne Kearney (Peristyle). After much training, and right after high school, Rondeno attended Chef John Folse Institute in Thibodaux, Louisiana. However, he states that his love for cooking and creating palatable art surfaced at a much younger age.

“Cooking was really in me early-on, probably around 10-years-old. It was nothing that I acted upon because I was just messing around in the kitchen fixing something to eat. You know, the way kids do when their parents work late… One day, me, my cousins and brothers were at the house, I told them that I cooked breakfast. My cousin made the statement, “You’re probably gonna be a chef one day.” I just looked at him and kept cooking. At that time, I didn’t take it seriously until later in life when you really develop a passion. That’s when things came about.

Chef Rondeno moved to L.A. in 2008, working as personal chef to actor, Will Smith. He is currently a private chef to A-list celebrities, and although he enjoys the continuity of working as a personal cook, he hopes to one day open his own restaurant.

In 2014, Chef Rondeno started Rondeno Culinary Designs. A brand that focuses on not only aesthetic dishes, but flavorsome cuisines using French, Italian, and American inspired foods.

Aside from the aforementioned specialties listed above, Rondeno is working on several exciting projects that’s bound to turn a few heads in the culinary world.

You recently launched the blog, CREOLE L.A., tell us about that

CREOLE L.A. is a lot of things to me. So many residents were displaced after Hurricane Katrina—they were all over the place, even out in Los Angeles. So, for myself, coming to Los Angeles, you want good southern food which can be hard to find. So, the tale on CREOLE L.A. is combining the cuisine with local California products, and when you bring it together, it creates a beautiful thing-- that’s how CREOLE L.A. came about.

Within dinners that I do, and local restaurants I do, you’re showing people that everything isn’t spicy and everything isn’t fried. You’re showing them the other side of how New Orleans, Los Angeles, or how any other city is. That’s the consumption of CREOLE L.A.

We learned that you are showcasing a new spice rub. Did you create the spice and how did you come up with such a recipe?

I did create the spice rub. It was just in the kitchen. I always wanted to have my own products, so I definitely wanted to start with spices. You know with creole being the essence of where I’m from, it just makes sense to do that. Plus, I definitely want to use it on my food. Why not use it on my food just like Emeril uses it on his food and Chef Palladin used it on his food. Why can’t I do the same thing? So, that’s how these things came about.

Tell us about the new cookbook. What can we expect from it?

You can expect a lot of things. One of the major things that I want to present is really making it approachable for the consumer to cook, and not making it intimidating; but at the same time, it has to be flavorful. I want you to feel me in the kitchen when I’m not in the kitchen—that’s my take on creating the cookbooks, just grabbing different flavors from all over the world and just balancing it with my style of cooking. That’s what I want to show people in the future.

As a celebrity chef… how was it working for Will Smith and Common? How were you afforded the opportunity to cook for celebrities?

Well, I did move to L.A to cook for Will Smith. I accredit that to a friend I went to school with—she got the job for me and I definitely want to give her credit for that. Cooking for him was an amazing adventure. At that time, I was a traveling chef. I traveled to various places like vacation homes and Christmas vacations. That was a very unique experience for me. I spent some time with him in New York when he shot Men in Black III.

I’ve cooked for Commons foundation while they raised money for kids with scholarships. I also cooked for Pre-Oscar parties. I was fortunate to cook for that. It was a unique experience.

I cooked for Tyrese Gibson, for his Black Rose release party… That was amazing.

I cooked for Sugar Ray Leonard, P Diddy, and that’s just a few to list, including a few athletes here and there... L.A. has been good to me.

How can new chefs break into the business and garner A-list clientele like yourself?

In that situation, it’s being in the right place at the right time. For, me, I didn’t target it. I came up in a restaurant and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I was very fortunate that these things happened to me. However, I would never tell a chef to target celebrities. I would say, just hone your craft, and then you will find your place.

What is your favorite dish to prepare?

I love pork belly (He laughs) … I definitely like short ribs during the winter-- they’re nice and hearty. Especially on the east coast where it’s a lot colder, but over here for me, its pork belly in my house. It could be that with any fruit, peaches, berries, and pimento. I love to balance that stuff together. Growing up, I would eat seafood. I ate seafood all day, every day—shrimp, crayfish, and local fish. During the spring in Louisiana, I’d eat a lot of crayfish broiled, and soft shelled crab. Soft shelled crab is my favorite meal.

Women prefer chocolate as a comfort snack. What’s your preference as a comfort food?

Burgers… I love a good burger. When I’m just relaxing, and I want to kick back and watch TV, I’ll have a burger.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

Locally, I’d have to say Broken Spanish, which is a favorite of mines. I like Chi Spacca, there are so many restaurants…

It’s your daughter’s wedding day. What kind of dishes would you prepare for family and friends?

Well, that’s easy cause for one, I know me and my family. You gotta keep it very simple and not bring out anything too extreme. You gotta keep it down-home-local. We gotta have gumbo, fried chicken, mac & cheese, and collard greens. There would be nothing out- the- blue, even though they’d expect it. Why go there if it’s going to be too far out there?

Do you consider your dishes to be an art?

Oh, yeah, definitely. Food is art and the plate is my canvas…What do your eyes look at when we present the food on a plate? How do you want to place it? These are the facts for me. Food is a major art form.

How important is it to have different flavors and textures?

It’s very important. You definitely want a well-balanced meal. There’s nothing more discouraging than a flat meal across the board, so you want the crisp texture. Let’s say you want to have scallops, and you want something earthy, but you want something that’s sweet, pickled and a briny flavor, to kind of bring it out. Everything meets harmoniously. It’s like a jazz band, you gotta bring all these pieces together to have a great concert, and that’s the way I look at food.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing right now?

Before I started cooking, I was an engineering major in college. I majored as an electrical engineer. My goal was to work for places like Sony or Pioneer. I had a fascination for car stereos. That’s what I wanted to do, but it didn’t work out that way… If I wasn’t cooking, that’s what I’d be doing.

What do you consider your best creations?

There’s a lot of creations. It’s too hard to call one specific thing the best because I feel like they all tell a different story of where the product came from and how you use it. To say what was your best dish, it’s a mind boggling question because even if I cooked red beans and rice, and I cook it over and over, each time, I will look at it a different way. So, can I really call it my best? That’s a broad question to really answer.

Tell us about your new YouTube channel.

Yeah, we’re definitely breaking into the YouTube world, and hit the world with different cooking techniques. We are teaching people via YouTube, different techniques, different foods to cook, short meals, and things that you just want to learn in general. I just want people to feel comfortable and have a better visual of what to cook in their homes.

What more can we expect from you in the next 5 years?

We already discussed the CREOLE line and possibly a restaurant in the near future. Having a restaurant is one of the higher goals that I want to achieve. The cookbooks, and few other products like pots, if that comes into fruition…

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