On the Line: Ritter of Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking, Part One
Working that SKC magic
Photo by LP Hastings
For a gentleman that prefers to be called by his surname, Chef Ritter is informal and hospitable. From the moment we shook hands at an event, to our last exchange at ARTIC's grand opening, Ritter has been nothing but cooperative with meeting our holiday deadlines. And for that (and some tasty pan roast) I thank him. Santa Ana and Huntington Beach were only the beginning, as their eventual expansion into Anaheim's ARTIC also means adding an oyster bar to the mix. But we'll let M.. I mean chef, explain.
How did you come up with the concept? This concept has been around for a long time. Grand Central Station has had steam kettle cooking for over 100 years. I got involved in this style of cooking in Las Vegas in '95, and left in 2007 to open my own restaurants. I worked for the Palace Station Oyster Bar and helped, with others, to develop this concept. As for the Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking Restaurants, it was a combined effort of my business partners and myself. There is so much more to creating a restaurant concept than just recipes. That is why most restaurants fail; it takes a team of dedicated partners to make a successful restaurant. And hopefully, a successful chain of them.
Where do you source your seafood from? We get our food from all over the world, depending on availability and quality. The food industry is truly a global market, from local farms to New Zealand.
Favorite meal growing up: There were actually a lot of favorites! My mother is a fabulous cook, and made a wide variety of great meals. But if I had to pick one, it would be her potato soup with kielbasa sausage and dumplings.
Where was your most recent meal? I ate at Pizza D'Oro in Fountain Valley and had spaghetti and sausage with garlic bread, a half a liter of Chianti to wash it down and spumoni for dessert.
Are you a Manhattan or New England chowder guy? I like both, and most places don't serve the red, so I wanted to. Even though they are both clam-based soup, they have very different flavor profiles.
Tell us about ARTIC (and the addition of an oyster bar). The restaurant at ARTIC is the brainchild of one of our co-founders, Linh Nguyen. He was the designer for the first two restaurants, and helped with all facets of getting this project off the ground. Now he is going to take the Ritter's concept a step further by bringing his new oyster bar concept (in conjunction with the steam kettle cooking) to ARTIC in Anaheim.
For those not familiar, could you explain the steam kettle cooking process? Steam kettle cooking is a great way to transfer heat to the food you want to cook. We use jacketed stainless steel kettles. The steam comes in one side of the kettle, and moves around the jacket of the kettle, heating the food indirectly and very evenly. Using steam is approximately six times more efficient than gas or electricity by itself.
Best culinary tip for the home cook: When trying a new recipe, follow the directions to the letter. Then, next time make it your own with some experimentation.
Most undervalued ingredient: Love of cooking. I don't mean to sound corny, but I think passion for cooking has a lot to do with the outcome. You can give several people the same recipe, and get several different results, depending on their passion and attention to detail.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best: Orange County has the best diversity of places to eat. It is a melting pot of ethnicity, from hybrid restaurants to truly authentic traditional restaurants.
Is there a dish you'd like to learn how to make? I'd like to learn to make kimchi.
One food you can't live without. Pasta! I just love pasta. I tried doing the Atkins diet a while ago, and was getting great results. But my love of pasta ended that. I would rather be a little overweight (Who am I kidding? A lot overweight.) than live without pasta.
You're making breakfast; what are you having? I really like steak and eggs with grits and home fries. But I am a breakfast lover. I can eat breakfast anytime [Editor's Note: Sounds like our kind of friend.].
Favorite places to eat. I don't get out much because of the restaurants. That's not a bad thing, because I love what I do. But when I get the chance, I go to Pizza D'Oro, Royal Thai and a wide assortment of Mexican restaurants.
Most frequently asked question by guests. "When are you going to build one of these by my house?" That makes me smile, knowing that our restaurant is being well-received by the public.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.