The common theme of chef interviews this summer has been locally grown fruits and vegetables to create fresh, delicious fare. Chef James Ricciuti not only uses his own produce and that provided by local farmers, he also serves up grass-fed meats and local cheeses in his Olney, Maryland, restaurant, Ricciuti’s. Taking it a step further, Ricciuti’s also features local beer, wine, and spirits. Clearly, Chef Ricciuti utilizes as many local resources as he can, ensuring quality and freshness. Chef Ricciuti places high priority on seasonal ingredients, harvesting produce at the peak of deliciousness. The result of this effort is a menu that evolves with the seasons with consistent quality and flavor.
I was able to speak with Chef Ricciuti to find out more about how he uses these ingredients in his restaurant.
JL: What types of foods do you grow in your garden?
CR: I grow kale, collards, spinach, tomatoes, squash, peppers, and many herbs.
JL: Are there any seasonal items that you are growing/using right now?
CR: We are still using kale, collards, herbs and summer squash.
JL: How do the seasons influence your menu choices?
CR: We plan around the seasons, so we are always using local fruits and vegetable at their peak flavor. For example, when eggplant and tomatoes are not available, they do not appear on the menu. I am already planning dishes for the summer/fall transition, and I am talking with my farmers several days a week to determine which crops are finishing and which one are starting.
JL: Which fresh-grown ingredients inspire you most?
CR: I really love seasonal fruits the most. Peaches, melons, pears, & berries. We can use them in desserts and in savory dishes as well. We also make cocktails with many of the fruits and herbs.
JL: What atmosphere do you aim to create in your restaurant?
CR: We aim to create a very positive and balanced atmosphere. I believe using foods in season provides more nutrition, taste and harmony in the restaurant. We also feel we can educate our staff and customers to the simplicity of cooking with fresh and local products. We find we do not have to manipulate the food much and let the ingredients speak for themselves.
JL: Any particular favorite menu items?
CR: I am very fond of our grass fed meats and local cheeses. I do love our wood fired pizza the most. We make all our own breads, pastry and sauces.