Chef Todd Richards appeared on NBC’s Today Show last week, highlighting three of the new dishes he is featuring on the fall menu at the Cafe at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead. Since joining the Ritz’s team as chef de cuisine in late 2010, Richards has devised a menu that divides Southern flavors into two camps: “traditional” and “modern.” Richards, a native Chicago, first arrived in Atlanta 20 years ago to work at the Four Seasons under chef Darryl Evens. After a stint at the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta Downtown, he departed Atlanta in 2003 to work at other prestigious properties like the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach and the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville. Richards returned to Atlanta in 2008, where he has earned kudos for his work at One Flew South and Rolling Bones BBQ.
Q: How has your move back to hotel fine dining compared to your last experience in that sector and what have you enjoyed the most in the new job?
TR: It is fun to be back in a hotel setting. Though I am at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, what I am doing is not considered fine dining as defined by style of service, the approachable nature of the food, and the ambiance we create for the guest. We give the guest great dining options such as casual food like pork schnitzel with bacon-mustard-fruit relish, and more complicated dishes like the Border Spring lamb tasting with lamb shank, lamb heart, sheep milk cardamom flan, and olives. I have found that this approach allows for the established generation of Ritz-Carlton diners to enjoy the sophisticated setting, while a healthy blend of new diners can venture into more modern cuisine.
Q: What process do you follow when you compose a menu?
TR: In writing menus the process is very simple. First, you find what is not selling well for whatever reason. I may think this is the most spectacular dish in the world; however, if it’s just not moving it must go. Second, you have find what is in season. There is no need writing a menu if you cannot buy the product. Third, you look at cost of product. Does really make sense to buy halibut at $18 a pound and charge consumer $40 a plate. (Halibut is having a rough season this year). Fourth, you look at logistics of each dish, such as what station does it have to come from. If I put a crispy garnish on a dish but the fryer is on the other station, that doesn’t make much sense. Finally, you have to ensure the dish is telling the story you want to convey to the guest about yourself as a chef and the restaurant as a whole. Maybe not so simple when you put it on paper.
Q: Describe a dish on the Ritz’s menu that reflects your philosophy??
TR: On the current menu the tuna dish that combines peaches and wasabi. Tuna and wasabi are classic together. However, the peach, from a modern standpoint, adds texture that enhances the wasabi as well cuts the bitterness wasabi can have. Furthermore, it ties the use of local ingredients to an international dish. Just because you use local ingredients doesn’t mean that they always have to be prepared in a local manner. I just put a cauliflower dish on the menu from a local producer. It is caramelized and then garnished with figs, marscapone, mild curry and Parmesan cheese. Certainly not Southern, but the base of the ingredients are here at home.
Q: From your perspective, what is the current state of fine dining in Atlanta and what does the future hold for this segment of the culinary marketplace?
TR: The current state of fine dining in Atlanta is in a flux. This is not unique to ATL. The whole country is in a flux, both economically and socially. From a price point there are certainly a great amount of restaurants you can consider fine dining in Atlanta, yet the settings and the casual nature of dress codes have made it a more casual environment to eat in. The days of telling a consumer what to wear and which fork to eat with are becoming more centered around holiday dining (Thanksgiving, Christmas) only. In some regards I appreciate it. I have to wear a uniform everyday for twelve hours. Certainly, I don’t want to spend my money and you tell me what I should wear. But on the other side we need a mecca of dining, the holy grail in this city. There has to be at least one Alinea, one Masa, in this city to help us garner more worldwide respect for dining. We need at least one Michelin restaurant. The city deserves it.
NEWS AND NOTES:
On Sunday, October 16, the second annual Morningside Mile race and block party, benefiting Atlanta’s oldest fire station, will be held from noon to 3 p.m. The race begins at noon in Virginia Highland and ends with a block party at Doc Chey’s in Morningside Village shopping center.
Avondale Estates. Look for the former James Joyce Pub at 22 North Avondale Road to morph into the The Hail Mary Sports Bar on October 2, according to the food blog, Amateur Gastronomer.
Buckhead. As Bill Addison reported on Twitter, Tomo Restaurant served its last meal at the original Vinings location this past Saturday night. It expects to launch a “soft opening” at its new Buckhead location at 3630 Peachtree Road on October 14. (Eater Atlanta reported today that it heard October 10: We’ll see what happens.) Word is that the Vinings space has already found new occupants who will begin operation by the end of the month.
According to Tomorrow’s News Today, the former Three on a Tree site at 4441 Roswell Road is now Ringside Franks and Shakes, featuring hot dogs, chicken sausages and bratwurst made from locally sourced meats.
Downtown. Hooters is expanding its Peachtree Street location by 5,000 square feet, taking over the former Goodfella’s Pizza and Wings next store, according to a report on What Now Atlanta that cited a permit filed with the City of Atlanta.
The Atlanta Business Chronicle is reporting that the Hyatt Regency’s new resto, Sway, is cooking its farm to table, Southern style dishes in a specially built cast-iron oven that is one of only fifty of its kind in the world.
Dunwoody. Thrillist notes that Carbonara—a trattoria featuring cured meats, seafood and self service wine stations—has opened at 5499 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road.
East Point. What Now Atlanta is reporting that full service catering company Black Tie Barbecue will relocate to the former White Elephant Thai Restaurant space this November and may offer lunch and dinner service at the new location.
Morningside. Creative Loafing reported that Burger Tap is slated to open in the former Caramba Cafe space at 1409 N. Highland Avenue.
Vinings. Twelve06, featuring a menu focused primarily on soul food, is slated to open in October at 2355 Cumberland Parkway.
Westside. The AJC notes that chef Sammy Davis has opened Flirt, a dessert bar and lounge at 1905 Howell Mill Avenue.
Ford Fry has added Tim Nichols (Double Zero Napoletana, Grindhouse Burgers) to the design team for his as-yet-to-be-named seafood spot on Howell Mill Road.
Question of the Week. What ATL chef will compete against star chef Marcus Samuelsson in the Cadillac Culinary Challenge Test Drive to be held at Lenox Mall November 5-6?
PS . The answer to last week’s QOTW—Who was the winner of the 5 Napkin Burger “Build the Atlanta Burger Challenge?”—is Atlanta resident James Goff for his Piedmont Pimento Burger, which is a beef burger patty topped with pimento cheese, grilled Vidalia onions, house-made pickled jalapenos, and bacon.