Ryan Whyte is the Sous Chef at Public Restaurant in New York City. The Chefs Connection recently caught up with him, and we had a few questions to ask.
The Chefs Connection: What was your first job in food?
Ryan Whyte: My first job, when I was 15, was at a Pretzel Time and Mrs. Fields at the San Buenaventura Mall. I got to make doughs from scratch and it’s where I learned all the basics of maintaining a kitchen space. Before that, my boy scout troop raised money with a burrito shack at the yearly street fair.
TCC: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
RW: I had a lot of ideas about what life was going to be like as an adult. I loved watching Emeril Lagasse and Ming Tsai on tv and idolized them but really I think I wanted most to be Indiana Jones.
TCC: What’s your favorite thing about being a chef?
RW: The ability to make people happy, to make them comfortable; to help people relax, to enjoy life, to fall in love. The other great part is to learn respect for all cultures of the world. When you can learn the intricacies and stories behind a cuisine, its really the foundation for respect of a culture as a whole.
TCC: Did you have an “aha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a chef?
RW: I think this is an ever evolving story, something that happens on a daily basis. There are hundreds of small moments, if you can catch them, that give it all meaning.
TCC: Best advice you ever got? stay clean, stay organized and stay focused.
TCC: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
RW: That’s a culturally relative question. To some people eating pork bung or lye cured “thousand year old eggs” is strange, to others Blood Pudding is strange, and the industrialized fast food culture bogles my mind. I’d have to say there are a lot of weird things out there, and I’ll try anything once.
TCC: Your favorite ingredient.
RW: Tough question, there are a lot of ways to answer that question but I’ll go with a good Champagne Vinegar. I love it. It’s tart and pungent while remaining delicate and bright, I use in everything from soups to vinaigrettes, desserts, and demi glace.
TCC: The ingredient that turns you off the most.
RW: Scapes. Slimy, smelly, bitter, I don’t care for them.
9-Your favorite tool.
RW: I have a large saucing & plating spoon, where I bent the tip of the handle around like the hook of a ladle. I can hang it on the edge of larger bain maries, mixing bowls, oven doors, pots and sauce pans without it slipping in or getting too deep.
TCC: What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not cooking. Hiking in the woods with my dog or traveling the world with my wife.
TCC: What would you like to do before you get too old to do it.
RW: Compete in a triathlon.
TCC: Tell us a deep dark secret (doesn’t have to be food related).
RW: I always wanted to go to Hogwarts and when I was young, I kept hoping I would get that letter….
TCC: How do you deal with the stress?
RW: Hmm. I guess just keep your head like a stone cold gangster. In the words of the late great Douglas Adams, Don’t Panic.
TCC: Tell us a funny story from the kitchen (VIDEO). We’ll make a date.
TCC: Who would you like to meet?
RW: John Muir
TCC: Who would you like to cook for? I’d love to take a year and do world tour and cooking for the impoverished in the far reaches of the globe.
TCC: What was the hardest thing for you to learn? Or is there something you just can’t get right?
RW: Other than learning to not be so hard on myself, something I still just can’t get exactly the way I want it is Hash Brown Potatoes. There’s just something about it, I’ll can’t ever achieve that level of crunchy golden brown like the freeze dried stuff you get at greasy spoon diners in the south.
TCC: Is there some little something you do for your family to make up for the time you’re not with them?
RW: I give my wife little foot massages and let her plan our time off together. I take my dog for walks through central park every morning and night when I get home.
TCC: How did becoming a chef change your life? Your direction.
RW: Hard to say, I’m not sure where I would be had I not become a Chef. Somehow, I think I was always meant for this. It taught me a level of self disciple only found in the military, the appreciation of world cultures, to respect nature and be gracious for the few ways we’ve been able to harness it to serve humanity. It’s taught me the importance of sustainability, frugality, of creativity. It’s faceted my outlook on life like a diamond from Tiffany’s.
TCC: Please give us a cooking tip that people might not know like “adding a little bit of oil to butter so it doesn’t burn.”
RW: After cutting chilies, rub your hands with oil before washing with soap. Capsaicin is only soluble in lipids (fats), the oil will remove it from your skin and prevent it from spreading it to your eyes or other sensitive areas.