The Secret Ingredients To Celebrity Chef Ryan Rondeno’s Success
He’s originally from Metairie, but now he caters to the stars.
Chef Ryan Rondeno got his start at Commander’s Palace, where he worked under the late Chef Jamie Shannon, and honed his skills while mixing it up with New Orleans chefs Anne Kearney, Emeril Lagasse, Anton Schulte, Mathias Wolf, Sue Zemanick and Gerard Maras.
In Los Angeles, he’s dishing up delectable New Orleans cuisine and fresh California flavors as a personal chef for a gumbo of glitterati including actor Will Smith, actor/singer Tyrese and Vista Equity Partners’ billionaire Robert F. Smith, the second wealthiest African American on The Forbes 400 list after Oprah Winfrey.
Rondeno said his recipe for success relies on the use of grass-fed organic meats and locally-grown organic produce, with an emphasis on creating bold flavors. Throw in some Cajun-Creole influences and a NOLA Creole Spice Rub brand, Rondeno has found his niche, serving a market starving for exceptional and sustainable southern cooking.
Rondeno was back in town last week and shared some insight into how he became a sought-after celebrity culinarian.
Leslie Snadowsky: How did your Metairie background catapult you to become a celebrity chef?
Chef Ryan: It takes a village to raise someone. Growing up as a boy in Louisiana, I was able to taste flavorful cuisine from the hands of my grandfather. At that time I didn't know that I would make this into my career, but I knew the food had to always be great. From dishes such as gumbo, crawfish, various shrimp dishes and even grits, I've always tasted the many different flavor profiles that danced in my mouth. It didn't stop there. I attended Nicholls State University as an engineer major and realized that this career wasn't for me. I decided to enter the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute. Throughout my career as a student chef and working in various restaurants, I was fortunate to work under a great list of talented chefs and teachers. Bringing the education to Los Angeles has allowed me to execute my style of cuisine for guests and patrons every day.
LS: As a businessman, how have you been able to capitalize on your New Orleans style of cooking?
CR: New Orleans cuisine is the type of cuisine that you can take anywhere and capitalize on it. I've taken on the idea to mesh NOLA and Californian cuisine to create something unique and special for my guests. I've always wanted my clients to think about what they're eating and be in tune with each dish that's presented.
LS: Step me through how a chef creates a business as a personal chef with celebrity clients? What can a personal chef earn annually?
CR: Creating a great list of clients is always about the hustle and grind. I've been fortunate enough to cook for a great list of people. When I'm cooking for an event, I always focus on what I can take from it. Quality food and service brings on new clients. I always tell chefs to cook every meal like it's their last. Clients will continue to come, and the word travels to grow your business. Social media is another aspect also. When you're new, free marketing (Instagram, Facebook, etc.) and word of mouth referrals are always your best options.
A personal chef can earn from $65,000 to $150,000 annually.
LS: It looks like you’re not only a chef, but also a producer of pop-up culinary events. How important is it nowadays for chefs to additionally create experiences for culinary clients?
CR: Yes. I'm working with Dawn Garcia, owner of A Taste of Dawn Magazine. Through passionate work, we've been able to put together some unique experiences in Los Angeles. It's very important for chefs to piece together unique experiences because the client is able to see their talents in a different light. Chefs should be encouraged to do so because it also helps build a brand and establish a following. I've also had a chance to collaborate with Henri Abergel, owner of Mistral restaurant, to create some fantastic New Orleans dinners.
LS: Tell me about your “clean eating” philosophy and your use of sustainable products.
CR: My clean eating philosophy is cooking mostly everything from scratch. I know what's in it, and it's my version of organic cooking. I think we have to support our farmers and local purveyors (meat, seafood, etc.) because they are supplying us with quality products every day.
LS: Your Creole L.A. blog features recipes and food demos of your take on classic L.A. food with a Creole twist. How has your blog helped sustain your business?
CR: Creole L.A. has allowed different people around the world to see another avenue of my style of cooking. I would love for people to really try new recipes to impress their family and friends. The recipes are easy to execute and bring out the inner chef in everyone.
LS: How hard was it for you to produce your NOLA Creole Spice Rub brand of seasoning rubs (Ancho-Chili BBQ, Nola Creole Rub, Citrus Herb Rub) that can be used for grilling, smoking, sautéing, braising and roasting? Is creating and marketing a product line the secret to a chef’s longevity?
CR: The road to produce my own spice line was a dream, a goal and now a reality. Patience is the key to success because it's not an overnight process. I wanted a product to really speak for my style of cooking. I spent months of research and development in the kitchen because I needed to see something bold and flavorful. Marketing is the key to the products’ success. I can create numerous products but the consumers need to see it for major growth. It's a new challenge that keeps me motivated to continuously achieve my goals.
LS: As a personal chef, what is the biggest challenge, and what is the biggest reward?
CR: As a personal chef, the biggest reward is that you're able to set your own schedule. Another reward is seeing the pleasure of my guests as they experience the meal. The biggest challenge is the changing trends every day. Sometimes you may not be informed of allergies, and you find yourself altering your menu at the last minute. It always keeps me planning ahead for the unthinkable.
LS: When you get back to Metairie what restaurants do you go to, and what are your favorite dishes?
RS: Cochon, Compère Lapin, Atchafalaya and Emeril’s are some favorite restaurants to visit. I'm always looking to see what's new and fresh in the city. Although gumbo is one of my favorite dishes, I'm inspired to taste different dishes with local product from the Southern region.
Chef Ryan Rondeno’s sweet potato lobster hash:
- 2 tbs. butter
- 2 tbs. olive oil
- 4 medium sweet potatoes, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, diced
- 2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 2-3 tbs. Ancho Chili BBQ Rub
- 1 lb. lobster meat
- 1 bunch scallions, sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a 12-inch sauté to medium heat.
- Add olive oil and butter.
- Add diced sweet potatoes.
- Sauté for 10-15 minutes.
- Add onion, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, garlic and Ancho Chili BBQ Rub.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes.
- In a separate pan, sauté mushrooms with 2 tbs. of olive oil. Season with pepper. Once caramelized, season with salt. Note: Seasoning mushrooms with salt too early can cause moisture and prevent caramelization.
- Add mushrooms and lobster meat to sweet potato mixture.
- Cook for 2-3 minutes or when lobster meat is cooked.
- Add scallions.
- Taste for seasoning adjustments.
- Serve with eggs as a great brunch dish.