Interview: chef Rick Tramonto

Chef Chicago


What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work in one of your kitchens?

Spirit. It’s all about the spirit. I can teach anybody how to cook, but I can’t teach somebody how to work, and I can’t teach somebody their passion for their craft. That’s either in you or it’s not. I look for a lot of spirit and a lot of passion for wanting to be there. You’ve got to want to be in my kitchen.

How can you tell?

You put ‘em to the test. They come in for two or three days and you run ‘em through the paces and you feel it. To me, it’s a sensibility. You kind of know if somebody wants to be in that kitchen or not. It’s a very structured, disciplined environment.

Is there anything you don’t enjoy eating?


Does that include King Cake too?

It does.

What’s the first dish that you ever remember cooking?

You know, it’s really interesting. I was an only child in a huge Italian family. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but my mom was from Abruzzi and my dad was from Naples, so a Napoletan and a Bruzzese. I was always drug into the kitchen because I was Little Ricky. “Ricky, come in and help us.” My grandmother was always with us. So meatballs. I always had to roll hundreds and hundreds of meatballs.

What’s the key to a great meatball?

Veal, pork and beef. That combination, magic. And heavy cream.

What was the last meal you cooked at home?

I just cooked it. Escarole and sausage with white beans. A big old pot. I have three teenage boys. I have a 16, an 18, and a 22. They just consume so much food. They’re all on the lacrosse team, and athletes, and they’re pretty big kids. I do a lot of big pots of food.

Are they future chefs?

No, they’re too smart for that. One’s graduating Northwestern this year, one’s going into Cornell next year, and my youngest is going to be a senior in high school. They see Dad work too many hours and too many holidays. I’ve been on the road for a long time. They understand. They all know how to cook, they all love food, they all get privileges from what I do, to be able to travel around the world and do lots of cool stuff. If any of them go in it, it would be my youngest, because his mom’s Gale Gand, who’s a pastry chef, and he goes back and forth between both homes and gets it from both sides at a very high level.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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