2014 Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Chef Joe Sparatta of Heritage

2014 Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Chef Joe Sparatta of Heritage
December 2014

A native of New Jersey, Joe Sparatta was born into a family full of chefs and took up the craft at an early age. However, it wasn’t until he began working at The Ryland Inn under Chef Craig Shelton that he truly found his passion. At the time, The Ryland was the only restaurant in New Jersey to be awarded four stars by The New York Times and Relais Gourmands by Relais & Chateaux. It was in this environment, with a vast four-acre organic garden to work with, that Sparatta got his education. He received additional training with Chefs David Bouley, Eric Ripert, and Michael Laiskonis in New York City before joining Chef Scott Anderson to open elements in Princeton, New Jersey, where he ambitiously fulfilled the role of both sous and pastry chefs.

Sparatta and his wife moved to Richmond, Virginia, in 2011, and then in late 2012, he opened Heritage with brother-in-law Mattias Hägglund. Since its opening, Heritage has garnered numerous accolades, including: Southern Living’s “100 Best Restaurants in the South 2014,” Richmond Magazine’s “Best New Restaurant 2013,” and four Stars by Richmond Times Dispatch. Sparatta is also in the process of opening a new restaurant (with fellow 2014 D.C. Rising Star Chef Lee Gregory), which will be a seasonally driven, casual eatery called Southbound.


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Interview with Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Chef Joe Sparatta of Heritage

Meha Desai: How did you get into cooking professionally?
Joe Sparatta:
Slave labor for my parents. My dad was a chef and my mom was working in the restaurant world. I grew up around food and people cooking excellent food. My dad was working at the Ryland Inn in the 80s, so I worked there as well. I didn’t have a choice. I just grew up in it. I didn’t go to culinary school. I just worked a lot and read a lot. I was trained by a lot of talented people. I love this industry and all the people in it. I’m fortunate to do what I am able to do. I learned how to cook by fucking things up and then learning how to fix it. Learning by failure is a great way to go about it. I’m still learning everyday. 

MD: Who's your mentor?
JS:
Craig Sheldon, Even the short time I worked with David Bouley, I think he’s my mentor as well, seeing his approach to food and his mentality. Same with Scott Anderson. That’s where I got a lot of my understanding. Craig taught me how to understand product and how to use it. With Scott, I got a great understanding and passion for fish. He’s a great teacher and great friend. 

MD: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
JS:
I hire cooks that help me become better. 

MD: What was the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
JS:
The first year we were open here. Once we got a deal for restaurant, we found out we were going to have a baby and then we bought a house. Those are three major life changes, but it paid off.

MD: What are you most proud of?
JS:
Other than my son, it’s creating this restaurant, my family, and having the ability to create something that people enjoy. I worked for so many people for so long, and to have people appreciate what you’re trying to put out there makes me proud. I take pride in the fact that we can continue to expand and have people excited about it. 

MD: What's your five year plan?
JS:
Buy a boat, because I love to fish. I also want to spend more time with my family, and to keep Heritage cranking. That’s really it. I didn’t think we would expand, but the new restaurant we’re doing is on the other side of Richmond where there is a void of good food, and I’m excited about that. 

MD: Describe your cuisine in one sentence.
JS:
We just try to make food that makes people happy. We try to cook for people, and we try to focus on farms and work with everybody we can who is growing and producing great stuff locally.