Greg Howe of Raya at The Ritz-Carlton, Part Two

Greg Howe of Raya at The Ritz-Carlton, Part Two
Kimberly Valenzuela

Today we continue our Q&A with Greg Howe, Chef de Cuisine of Raya at The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel. If you missed the first part, click here.

Stay tuned tomorrow for our final installment: a recipe.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network

Something where real food was used to make real dishes. I think that people would also like to eat healthier, but lack the fundamental knowledge and think they lack the financial resources to do so. The show, if not careful, could be very boring, so the theme of the show would need to be creative.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:

Iguana tacos. Still trying to forget about it.

You're making an omelet. What's in it?

There better be cheese. And eggs. Everything else I am good with.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of?

Bottles of wine. Never know when you might need an extra.

Weirdest customer request:

After a decade in the hotel business its hard to remember them all. However I did work very hard to make a beef wellington (which I was not excited about to begin with) only to find out later that it was for a couple's dog for its birthday. Never got the chance to ask him if he enjoyed it.

Favorite OC restaurant(s) other than your own:

SideDoor at Five Crowns. I might break and enter after hours for beef fat fries if I thought they wouldn't press charges.

Hardest lesson you've learned:

Respect your cooks and what talent they bring to your operation. If you disrespect them, they can make your life miserable.

What would the last meal on Earth be?

My grandma jo-jos "egg in the hole". But only if she makes it.

Who's your hero? Culinary or otherwise?

Cheesy it may be, but it would have to be my father. He made a lot of sacrifices in his career path to be a better father, and made life for all of us much easier. He epitomizes discipline and integrity. Don't meet a lot of his equals in this world.

What cuisine that you are unfamiliar with would you want to learn more about and why?

I am intrigued by Indian food, but have little to no background in it. I am currently learning more.

OC's not yet acquainted with Richard Sandoval , but not to Mexican food. What was the impetus for Raya?

We wanted to expose the OC to the flavor profiles of Richard's palette. This man has taste buds like no other person that I have ever met. What's best about Richard is that the food is not restricted in any way with regards to culture or style; but it is also not overdone. There is a lot of work and thinking that goes into every dish. He will change your perception of the flavors of Mexico.

How often does Chef Sandoval come to check in?

More than you probably think.

So what were you doing before you came to The Ritz, that is, what's your background, culinary or otherwise?

Came here from sunny Sarasota, Florida from Vernona at the Ritz Carlton, where I was chef. I did not start in this business, I stumbled into it from business school.

What has the reaction been to the huitlacoche? Do your customers know what it is?

Huitlacoche has a "don't ask, don't tell" kind of reputation with most diners. Some people without hesitation will tell you that they know what is and then will be sharing their knowledge proudly with the rest of the diners at their table. Others look at you puzzled when you explain it. I use the term "Mexican truffle", which seems to work for most people.

What advice do you have for those that might be thinking about starting a career in food?

Please, please, please go work in a high volume restaurant or hotel restaurant for at least a year before you or your parents spend a dime on culinary school or the like. This is a business that is nothing like what people think it is. if you survive a year, then we will talk.

What do you see yourself doing in 5 years? 10 years?

Hopefully opening more concepts like the one I am in now.

Raya at the Ritz-Carlton, 1 Ritz-Carlton Dr., Dana Point, (949) 240-2000; www.ritzcarlton.com.

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