Interview: chef Rick Tramonto
Rick Tramonto is a Rochester, New York, native who overcame early adversity to build a robust culinary career. He worked on high-profile projects in New York and London, and now runs several restaurants in Chicago and New Orleans, including Restaurant R’evolution, Tramonto Steak and Seafood, Osteria di Tramonto, and RT Lounge. Tramonto shares his full story in an autobiography called Scars of a Chef, but he still shared several revelations at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Opening Reception.
Was it a given that you’d become a chef, or did you consider other careers?
In 1977, I started working at Wendy’s, one of the first Wendy’s that ever opened in upstate New York. My dad went to prison when I was a kid, I left high school and started working in the industry. 35 years later, eight cookbooks and four restaurants, and I just wrote an autobiography called “Scars of a Chef,” Tyndale Publishing, which really tells the whole journey. It’s a pretty cool journey.
So you’re new to New Orleans?
The last two years. I’m mainly New York and Chicago based, but my partner, chef John Folse, who’s in New Orleans, who I’ve known for 15 years, we partnered up to do Restaurant R’evolution.
What does a dish have to be to go on the menu at your restaurant in New Orleans, versus other restaurants you own?
It has to have the spirit of the Seven Nations. Louisiana was occupied by the Indians and the Spanish and the Italians and the Germans and the French. They all occupied it at one time, so when we do a study, or we do research for a menu, we go back to the beginning. We ask, “Why is this even here? Who brought this here? Did the Germans bring this here? Did the Spanish bring this here?” It’s all about the Seven Nations.” My partner wrote The Encyclopedia of Creole and Cajun Cuisine, which is a 1000-page encyclopedia. John also has a culinary school at Nicholls State University, which just teaches the history of Louisiana and its cuisine, so a lot of it has to do with that.
What’s the most recent dish that you developed for any of your restaurants and what was your inspiration?
The dish that we’re doing tonight is an oyster with absinthe gelee with Louisiana choupique caviar, so it’s got this beautiful salty oyster with this licorice explosion and a little bit of salt from the caviar. It’s just a beautiful dish.
What’s your top selling dish at the New Orleans restaurant, and why do you think that’s the case?
Because we’re in the French Quarter – we’re on the corner of Bourbon & Bienville – it’s like being in Times Square – it’s the center of the universe – so for us, we do a lot of gumbos, seafood gumbos. We do a huge salumi program, but one of our greatest selling dishes is burrata and caviar, which is just magic. People love it.
What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work in one of your kitchens?