Craig Shelton: What Im trying to communicate in the recipes
is not only the steps and techniques necessary to achieve the dish,
but also I would like to help people understand what is happening
to the proteins, starches, sugars, etc. so that they can understand
WHY the technique works. With the help of a few scientific "metaphors,"
I would like the reader to be able to take the "thinking"
behind the dish and adapt that understanding to new contexts.
JM: What kind of training did you have to become such an accomplished
chef of French haute cuisine?
CS: Ive been working in restaurants
since I was 14 when I was washing dishes (25 years). I did not go
to cooking school; instead I received all my training in restaurants,
most of which were French. It has been my remarkable fortune to have
been able to work for some extraordinary chefs: Claude Segal of Ma
Maison; Roland Chenus of Le Chantilly; Jean-Jacques Rachou of La Côte
Basque; Dennis Foy of Tarragon Tree; Gilbert Le Coze of Le Bernardin;
and David Bouley of Bouley. The stages that I was able to get in France
were particularly beneficial, especially: LAuberge de lIll
with the Haeberlins, Jamin with Joël Robuchon, Pré Catelan
with LeNôtre, and my pastry stage with Daniel Raguin. If I could
only remember 1/10th of what they all taught me I would be twice the
cook I am.
JM: You have a 42-page wine list, what inspires you to add
another wine to the list? Does this aspect of the restaurant take
you away from the kitchen?
CS: First of all, the wine, for me, can have such synergistic
potential with the food that I cant create a dish without thinking
about the type of wine I would want to marry with it. I consider the
work I do in composing the wine list as part of the expression of
the kitchennot as distinct from it.
In general, I prefer wines from cooler climates, sure they are more
vintage-sensitive, but I find them to be more suave and interesting
than wines that are merely powerful. Mostly I look to add wines that
complement the style of cooking we are doing: elegant dishes with
elegant wines, rustic dishes with rustic wines.
JM: What are the advantages and disadvantages of growing your
own produce and herbs?
CS: The only disadvantage is that it requires a lot of logistical
planning. The kitchen has to adapt to the yield cycles of the garden.
Whereas if we were just ordering the produce from a purveyor, it becomes
his problem to find what the kitchen needs. The garden is a great
gift to us at the Ryland and I believe it helps keep the cuisine honest
by respecting seasons and calibrating the palate to how things CAN
taste when quality is the only concern.
JM: Does this mean that you do not use any genetically modified
CS: I believe that we have never used genetically modified foods
as you mean it. Of course, nearly all modern vegetables are the result
of someone crossing this with that to create a more desirable hybrid.
Bees have been genetically modifying food since the beginning of time,
but that is a natural process of cross-pollination. When people introduce
a genetic sequence from animal tissue it makes me nervous. I wont
JM: What does it mean for you, and The Ryland Inn, to be a
Relais & Gourmand?
CS: Ever since I worked in France, it has been one of my greatest
dreams to some day be worthy of acceptance into the Relais Gourmand
ranks. I still cant believe it really happened. Undoubtedly,
it is the greatest honor of my professional life.
JM: What do you think of Relais & Châteaux's competitor,
Châteaux et Hôtels de France, where Alain Ducasse is Chairman?
CS: I consider Alain Ducasse one of the great chefs and restaurateurs
of all time. I am sure he will achieve important gains for Châteaux
et Hotels de France.
JM: Since your restaurant is a destination restaurant, what
do you offer to your guests that a neighborhood restaurant, say in
New York City, does not?
CS: A tranquil country setting, and generally the tables dont
turn (except on Saturday). Id like to believe that we have one
of the friendliest staffs around. I hope that guests feel more like
they are dining in someones home. We are also very flexible
in the kitchen. We will try to accommodate almost any special requests.
JM: Your Gourmand Tasting Menu, which changes daily, is 10
courses paired with a different wine for each course, is this what
most of your guests tend to order?
CS: Depending on the night, it could account for 15-35% of
sales. We also offer two other shorter tasting menus. There are two
different wine packages for each menu. Roughly half of the people
who order any of our three tasting menus also choose to order one
of the composed wine packages which pair a specific wine for each
JM: From a chef's perspective, why do you prefer and enjoy
preparing tasting menus?
CS: Last year I redesigned the menu to emphasize tasting menus
in response to the changing demand of our clientele. Over the last
nine years, the percentage of tasting menu sales has grown from 5%
in 1991 to almost 75% (on most nights) in 1999. The Ryland has become
such a "special occasion" restaurant that most clients want
the vast array of experiences which a tasting menu affords. So our
menu change was firstly a response to market pressure.
JM: A chef's tasting menu, often times, can be excessive. How
do you ensure that your menu is not overwhelming?
CS: That is the reason that we broke up the menu into four
distinct parts--each designed to give a different type of dining experience--allowing
our guests to choose, for themselves, the type of evening that they
want to have. Thus:
A. The GOURMAND tasting menu of ten courses is designed for those
who are looking for cutting-edge dishes and are prepared to spend
quite a bit of time at the table. This accounts for about 25% of sales.
B. The TRADITION tasting menu of eight courses is designed for the
majority of the guests who want the symphonic pleasure of a dégustation
without treading into scary things like cockscombs and baby eels.
This accounts for about 50% of sales.
C. The VEGETARIAN tasting menu of eight courses highlights our NOFA
certified organic gardens, and accounts for around 5% of sales.
D. The A LA CARTE section of 5-6 appetizers and 6 main courses was
designed for those who are conducting serious business and want the
food to be great but not distracting, or those who don't want to spend
as much time at the table.
We dont like to restrict the guests choices. If one person
at the table wants à la carte, and another wants a Gourmand
tasting menu, and yet another wants the Tradition tasting menu, and
still another wants the Vegetarian tasting menu
what we do. Naturally, this is complicated for the kitchen, but it
is what we thrive on.
JM: Tell me about the Bleu de Termignon cheese that you serve
at The Ryland Inn? Why do you pair it with a Monbazillac?
CS: Its a very rare blue cheese made in the French Alps
by only one woman with nine cows. The blue veining is naturally induced
unlike most blues. The texture is sublime. We serve it with a tokay
pinot-gris S.G.N. or a Monbazillac with lots of botrytis. Let the
wine and cheese combine in your mouth togethera sensuous revelation.
JM: I noticed several different gelées on your menu,
are they a defining aspect of your style of cuisine?
CS: No, but we are having a lot of fun playing around with
some of Ferran Adriás techniques. I havent really
figured out what role I want them to play yet.
JM: Who are your mentors?
CS: All of the chefs I mentioned above. Perhaps it was Robuchons
influence, although the briefest, that most spoke to me over the last
fifteen years. Today, I am most fascinated with the work of Pierre
Gagnaire, Michel Bras and Marc Veyrat.
JM: Is it fairly easy to get good cooks for your team? How
do you usually go about hiring?
CS: We have had the best success with those people who had
little or no prior three-star or four-star cooking experience. Of
course, I love to work with advanced cooks. Mostly we hire on the
basis of attitude, passion, integrity and commitment NOT because of
a fancy resumé. I look for character and integrity above all
JM: What are your most prized tools/knives and equipment?
CS: I love my Global and Masahiro knives. But most of all I
love my Bourgeat copper potsand I have lots of them.
JM: Who are your regular purveyors and what do they do best?
CS: DArtagnan for game and foie gras, Browne Trading for
Fish, New York Fish House for sushi type fish, Wotiz for my beef and
There are so many extraordinary purveyors who make it possible
for us to do what we do. I am grateful to them all.
JM: Do you have plans to build rooms at The Ryland Inn? I know
when I dined there I would've loved to wake up there too, especially
in the spring when the garden is beginning to grow.
CS: It has been my dream and intention since the day I arrived
here almost ten years ago. I think that adding guest rooms would be
the single best thing I could do to secure the future of The Ryland