Art of Food's Meet The Chef: Rebecca Richards, Chef at Flex Mussels
When did you start cooking?I am a product of a single mother. She commuted for work for an hour and a half each day, both ways. So when I was a kid, she would call me and ask me what was for dinner. I started when I was three years old making macaroni and cheese—things like that. She told me that I was always very angry when I couldn't get to the sink to scrub it out.
So I've always cooked for people and my family, and as I got older I just kept cooking more and more: I went from doing part of Thanksgiving to cooking all of Thanksgiving.
Where are you from?The West Coast. I was born in L.A., and went to high school in Eugene, Oregon. I played college sports in Mississippi, and lasted about a year playing sports. I started waiting tables in arts school—so very typical.
I fell in love with restaurants and quit sports. Used my art degree for culinary purposes. There was nothing I wanted to do more than work in restaurants, whether it was doing dishes or scrubbing the floors, waiting tables—anything.
What brought you to New York?I was a chef at a steak house way out in the country in Mississippi. It was awesome: bring your own alcohol, thirteen items on the menu, people would wait hours for a table. I had hit the top. I was running the place. I had relationships with all of the local farmers. There was really no place else for me to go, so I told everyone that I was going to try my hand at New York. They all said I was crazy and that Mississippi doesn't make it there. And it was tough to get people to give me a shot. Culinarily speaking, New Yorkers don't think anyone but New Yorkers can cook, unless you're from France. Fortunately for me, I got a job as a fry cook here at Flex Mussels, and after pestering them for a year, they gave me a shot at the chef job.
How does your art degree influence your culinary career?With plating: colors, composition, keeping things vibrant and looking a certain way. I use the principals of balance and harmony in visual and three-dimensional art in everything.
What is your favorite kind of artwork?I was actually a potter, and I studied under Pablo Sierra who is a famous potter from Spain. He moved to Mississippi and lived in a little shack house. He and I would go dig clay and make plates, pots, teacups, and things like that. I learned to recognize the type of earth we were using, and know what color it would turn when we applied fire to it.
So when I became a professional chef, my mom always said: “When you open your own restaurant you can make your own plates.”
Any cooking tips?Most things are going to need lemon, and salt reduces heat. Most people think that you would add sugar to take the spice away, but it's really salt.
To find out more or to buy tickets to Art of Food 2017, go to artoffoodny.com.
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