Chef Randy Rucker credits his mother for his passion for food, and his culinary peers for inspiration. After graduating from Johnson & Wales, Rucker moved to California, working with chefs like Matt Millea and Craig Von Foester and developing a taste for raw ingredients like artichokes, sea urchins, and wild mushrooms. Two years later, Rucker returned to Houston as chef de cuisine for John Sheely at Riviera Grill in the Sam Houston Hotel. He also worked as sous chef at Mark’s American Cuisine. And after a brief stint in Austin as sous chef at Zoot Restaurant, Rucker returned to Houston to work with Tim Keating at Quattro at Four Seasons Hotel Houston.
Not all of Rucker’s culinary experience has been Texas-bound. He staged at both Tru in Chicago and briefly at Clio in Boston before planting his roots, firmly, in Houston. In 2005, Rucker opened Laidback Manor with his mother, Bootsie, and received numerous awards and accolades from national press, including Food Arts and The Wall Street Journal. Just a year after opening Laidback Manor, he began working as a corporate chef at the Cordua Group.
Never one to limit his projects, Rucker also operated an underground supper club, Tenacity, which led to a chef position at The Rainbow Lodge. Rucker, along with his culinary confidant and mentor Chef Jonathan Jones, drew inspiration from an onsite garden and citrus grove. Their efforts were rewarded with four stars from Modern Luxury—not to mention the first four-star review (in almost nine years) from Alison Cook at The Houston Chronicle.
Currently chef-owner of Bootsie’s in Tomball, Texas, Rucker’s in the process of opening a second restaurant in Tomball, Restaurant Connate. Rucker expresses his philosophy—that food should represent an unrepeatable time and place—in the foraged ingredients that inspire the Bootsie’s daily-changing menu. Wherever he’s cooking, Rucker executes his menu with a deep love of Third Coast produce and cuisine, balancing Southern classics with modern techniques.
Interview with Chef Randy Rucker of Bootsie’s – Tomball, TX
Francoise Villeneuve: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Randy Rucker: Good question. Yikes! It’s all I’m really good at.
FV: But what first made you see it as a career rather than something you enjoyed doing?
RR: I’m still looking into it. I don’t know.
FV: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?
RR: Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
FV: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with or without a culinary background?
RR: It doesn’t matter to me at all. I kind of look at the person for who they are. I’m much more interested in their work ethic.
FV: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
RR: The whole staff [goes on the foraging expeditions]. It’s a small community so we all know each other really well. I just cook every day.
FV: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
RR: I am not sure. We’re definitely keen on the location where we actually are. So you know, we use modern techniques, but we try and uphold the heritage of the South and Texas and whatnot and have the element of discovery and an appreciation for where we are.
FV: What goes into creating a dish?
RR: We cook what we have. We don’t rely on a bunch of big companies to ship stuff in. We cook out of necessity sometimes. We do a lot of pickling and preserving. What we have, we take care of and preserve for later. As for the dish, it’s more of a balance of saltiness and sweetness; [we] make sure it’s a balanced plate. I don’t believe in protein being the main [element] of the plate. Corn could be on there, ya know what I mean? We find beauty in everything. Everything has its place.
FV: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
RR: Keeping up with the phone calls. Seriously. We do the calls, the reception, the accounting, everything.
FV: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
RR: Collectively it’s a lot of work, and that dedication takes away from a lot of things. A lot of sacrifice—wives, girlfriends, children. [With] the amount of time that you spend at work, you sacrifice a lot from your personal life for your professional life.
FV: If you had one thing you could do over again, what would it be?
RR: Everything in the past makes you who you are in the present, so nothing. I’m not saying I haven’t had hard times but it molds you in a way, and I try and take something positive out of everything.
FV: What’s your favorite food-industry charity?
RR: Recipe for Success, here in Houston.
FV: What’s your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
RR: I guess ultimately finally getting some attention out here in Houston. I guess that’s pretty big. It’s a long trip to get here. There are the two cities, Tomball and Houston and you go from one to the other. Houston is huge.
FV: What does success mean for you?
RR: I guess just being able to look back and make sure that your staff is [made of] better cooks than you. That’s the idea, right?
FV: What’s next for you?
RR: I guess to make sure that I wake up tomorrow morning. I take it a day at a time, know what I mean? I’m thankful for every day that I wake up.
FV: If you weren’t a chef, what do you think you’d be doing?
RR: I’d probably be up to no good. I don’t know what else I’d do. I’d be a model.