2014 Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Chef Graeme Ritchie of VOLT

2014 Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Chef Graeme Ritchie of VOLT
December 2014

Graeme Ritchie was born into the restaurant business. As a 14 year old, he picked up an odds-and-ends shift at the restaurant his mother managed in Rochester, New York—doing everything from laundry to washing dishes. Not a fan of scrubbing pots, Ritchie buddied-up to the restaurant’s Italian owner, who taught him basic prep skills and instilled in him a strong work ethic and love for cooking. At 16, he graduated to a cook’s position, taking a job at his grandfather’s country club. But his parents didn’t approve of his desires to attend culinary school, and so the passionate Ritchie applied for the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park without them knowing.

After graduating from culinary school, Ritchie moved to New York City to work at David Burke and Donatella, followed by a tenure as executive sous chef at Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington, D.C. In 2008, he joined Bryan Voltaggio to open VOLT as executive sous chef and right hand man. After eight years as a Voltaggio veteran, Ritchie assumed the honor of its chef de cuisine post. At VOLT, he strives to give guests a new appreciation for local products, classic flavor profiles, and traditional pairings, presenting ideas that are familiar and yet completely unexpected.

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Interview with Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Chef Graeme Ritchie of Volt

Meha Desai: Why did you start cooking professionally?
Graeme Ritchie: Because I hated washing dishes. My mom used to be a manager for a restaurant in Rochester, New York. I told her I didn't want to bring bagged lunch anymore, so she told me to get a job at the restaurant. It was an odd job, helping with linen laundry. When I was 14, I could work a few hours a week, so I started washing dishes, which I hated so much. The owner was from Italy and he taught me everything from peeling garlic to chopping onions. At 16, I worked a few hours a week at a country club my grandfather was a member of. I wanted to go to culinary school, but my parents didn’t want me to be a chef. So I applied to CIA without them knowing. 

MD: Who's your mentor?
GR: Bryan Voltaggio. I've been with Bryan for almost 11 years. I grew up with him by my side. He's helped shape who I am today. I first met him when I did my externship from the CIA. I also worked with David Burke in New York. He taught me that it’s all about flavor. Flavor comes first, and you have to make food taste great.

MD: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
GR: I wish there was one. D.C. is tough. I used to be a lot more involved. It’s hard, now that I have a seven month old baby.

MD: What are you most proud of?
GR: I'm most proud of this restaurant, honestly. It’s been the last six years of my life, from my early 20s to now, when I'm 29. Knowing that I have come so far so fast, it’s surreal. We went to Denmark for MAD last year, and there were people who knew me. It’s fun to be in Europe.

MD: What's your five year plan?
GR: Five years ago, I wouldn't have thought I would be here, so I don't know. I don't want to jinx myself and I don't want to overextend myself. I’m the most selfless and humble person. I would like to continue doing what I am doing. But step away a little bit. People would ask me why I’m still working with Bryan. And I asked them back, why not? He's one of the most off-the-wall people I know. He has six restaurants right now and two more in the pipeline. I'd like to get a James Beard Award some day too. That would be a huge achievement.

MD: What is your cuisine like?
GR: I take local products that people are familiar with and try to make them as flavorful and as different as possible from what people would imagine. I like to take familiar things and make them unfamiliar. I use classic flavor profiles and classic pairings and make it better.

MD: If you could do one thing differently in your career what would it be?
GR: Nothing.