Today’s Chef in the Spotlight is Richard Gras, Chef de Cuisine of J&G Grill at the St. Regis Bal Harbour. With a solid and notable resume Chef Gras came to work with Jean George and company by way of the Ritz-Carlton; doing stints at Half Moon Bay (CA) and Amelia Island (FL); but it was during his time in culinary school in Providence RI that ultimately set the foundation for his position at J&G Grill where he worked with Jordi Vallès, Executive Chef of the St. Regis Bal Harbour at Fire and Ice Restaurant in Providence. With all his high-profile resume building, traveling and experiences I do believe you’ll find Gras’ answers to who he’d most like to cook for, his last meal and his favorite local haunt wonderfully endearing. I present this week’s Chef in the Spotlight, Richard Gras.
South Florida Food and Wine: Where do you get your culinary inspiration?
Richard Gras: My culinary inspiration comes from the seasons, the fresh product, I read a lot, my staff, and my life experiences. I use all of these when I am creating new dishes.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your favorite item to make on the J&G Grill menu?
Richard Gras: My favorite item on the menu right now is the grilled veal chop with summer beans, mint, and chili. This dish is an explosion of flavor. You have a beautifully tender veal chop that has mint pressed into it before its grilled. Seven different types of heirloom beans that have been pan roasted and charred slightly, and little bit of pesto and a house made chili pepper sauce. The dish incorporates a lot of texture, tastes, and smells to create an experience for our guests.
South Florida Food and Wine: You’re a great Chef, with that said, can you bake?
Richard Gras: As a chef I think it’s important to be able to do all things in a kitchen, so yes I bake. But its definitely not my strong point. I have a talented pastry chef (Antonio Bachour)so I am very lucky. But I do know how to make everything on my menu so I can do quality checks daily to insure everything is perfect.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is the one pastry item you can make that would give pastry chef Antonio Bachour a run for his money?
Richard Gras: Antonio is an amazing pastry chef and we work really well as a team. I don’t think that there is anything I could make that would be as good as his. He is an amazing talent and he teaches me something new every day. So maybe in a year, after he teaches me new things, I could give him a run. But now I just enjoy his creations and learning from him.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is a typical day for you as Chef de Cuisine at J&G Grill St. Regis Bal Harbour?
Richard Gras: My typical day starts around 8 am when I come in and great my morning staff and talk with my AM sous chef about the days “to dos”, I then go to my office and check through emails and check my calendar to see what I have scheduled for the day. Around 9 am, I am talking with my purveyors about products and orders for the next day, this can last up to an hour because of the different time zones I order from. Then it’s back up to the kitchen to start my walk thru of stations and checking quality of products and preparations for that days lunch service. Sometimes I will expedite lunch but most times it’s the AM sous chef that will run the show for lunch. I then start planning for dinner service looking at reservations to see who’s coming, any VIPS, special dietary restrictions, special occasions, etc. From there I will start on preparation of new dishes and experimenting for new menus or specials we are looking at running. Around 2pm, I will break away and do all my local orders of produce and meats and place those orders for the next day. At 2:30 pm staff arrives and I will greet the staff and check on their amount of prep for the day. We will line up and talk about the night’s specials, VIPS, and any needs our guest may have. This gives the staff some time for feedback and any opportunities they may have. At 5:00 pm, I walk the stations again for dinner service, checking quality of product and consistency. At 6pm, dinner service starts and I will expedite dinner service leaving my PM sous chef to stick with cooks and to assist with expediting from the hot side. At 11pm, dinner service is over and I will go to my office to write notes down for service. I will take notes down and talk about them in the next day line up with staff so there is constant improvement. I will send my last emails and be gone by 11:30 to 12 am. This is a typical day which there are always pop ups in my day to change my routine.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one go-to ingredient and why?
Richard Gras: My go to ingredient is vinegar. All different types like Minus 8, rice wine vinegar, cabernet vinegar, noble syrup to name a few. I think vinegar adds a depth to the flavor by opening up flavors. I use vinegar a lot to add a splash of acidity that improves the flavor and depth to anything you add it too
South Florida Food and Wine: What is the most challenging thing about your position as Chef de Cuisine at J&G Grill St. Regis Bal Harbour?
Richard Gras: The most challenging things for me in my job is living up to the expectations that are set when you work for a company like Jean George. He is a very acclaimed chef and many of our guests have been to his restaurants for years so it’s very important in my job every day that I don’t just keep his standards but I raise the bar so the JG Bal Harbour is not just another one of his restaurants but the best one. We do this by creating a guest experience that you cannot find anywhere else in his restaurants or Miami.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?
Richard Gras: My last meal would be dinner with my wife and we would do a tasting menu from amazing things we have had a chance to eat in our lives together:
1 course: Tuna and foie gras from Le Bernadin
2nd Course: Spring Pea Soup from J&G Grill
3rd Course: Spicy Frogs Legs from Namh in Bangkok Thailand
4th Course: Foie Gras Shumei from Blue Ginger
5th Course: Pork Chop from Nopa in California
6th Course: Veal Sweetbreads from Lolita in Cleveland
7th Course: Coconut Napolean from J&G Grill
The whole meal would be paired with my wife and our favorite wines.
South Florida Food and Wine: Who is the one person you would love to cook with and why?
Richard Gras: The one person I would love to cook with is Thomas Keller. As a young cook, his books really shaped me. Then I had the opportunity to work with a chef that had worked for him for a few years and really learned a lot. Then I had an opportunity to eat at Per Se and it was still to this day one of the best experiences I have had. Then last year, while working in California, I had a chance to meet Chef Keller and speak with him and he really is an amazingly humble guy. So I have done everything but actually cooked with him and I think that would just be the icing on the cake.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one guilty pleasure food?
Richard Gras: My one guilty pleasure is Chicken Wings and Beer. Always has…
South Florida Food and Wine: What was the last restaurant you ate at other than at the St. Regis; and what did you order?
Richard Gras: The last restaurant I ate at was Timo and I had Tuna Conserva and Ribeye Steak. It’s our (mine and my wife) favorite neighborhood place to go.
South Florida Food and Wine: Who would you most like to cook for? And why?
Richard Gras: I would most like to cook for my wife. The reason being (and I do cook for her occasionally) that she has been right next to me for a good part of my growth as a Chef and I have dragged her from coast to coast with my career. The ability to cook for her is gratifying because it allows me to give back to her and say thank you for her patience and her ability to put up with me. And also she is lactose intolerant so it makes me be a little more creative in the way I create meals for her but at the same time giving her an amazing meal.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your day off, what do you do for fun?
Richard Gras: My day off I like to sleep in a little bit but I work out, love to play golf, spend time with my wife, and read my cookbooks.
Click here to read about my dinner at J&G Grill
J&G Grill St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort 9703 Collins Avenue, Bal Harbour, FL 33154
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