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

Raya, the new restaurant at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, is Richard Sandoval's restaurant. Including this one, the celebrity chef (that you may not have heard of but will soon enough) has opened three eateries in Southern California since spring (The other two are in Santa Monica, neither affliated with the Ritz).

But if you dine at Raya, and you should, you're really eating the food that Greg Howe cooks. The recent OC transplant is Raya's Chef de Cuisine. Here he has agreed to indulge us our silly questionnaire.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2, and then the day after that for a recipe!

In the meantime, read on:

What are six words to describe your food?

Pan-Latin Sustainable Seafood, Fun.


Your best recent food find:

Fermented anything – beans, garlic, tofu

Most undervalued ingredient:

The egg. Or perhaps salt. Without salt nothing tastes good, but I am obsessed with eggs

Rules of conduct in your kitchens:

Team comes first. I encourage creativity, but the food must be consistent.

One food you detest:

Blackened anything. Party's over.

One food you can't live without:

Again, eggs. However any kind of noodle runs a close second.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:

I love the casual approach of most restaurants here, they are about good food but enjoying yourself as well.

What fast food is your least favorite?

Most fast food tacos are not tacos at all, but rather an American way of putting a hamburger in a tortilla.

Best culinary tip for the home cook.

Take chances, have fun. Live with your mistakes and learn from them. The first time you make something it will probably be a semi-disaster, and that is O-K.

After-work hangout:

Other than just going home, I would say Dana Point.

If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Both sets of grandparents, 40 years ago. I only have two grandmothers, and they are both very elderly and unable to eat much of anything. I think they would be proud of what I have accomplished in this business.

Favorite celebrity chef.

I should tell you Richard Sandoval, if I was smart. So if you don't include him I would say Heston Blumenthal, because culinarily speaking he is like having the answers to all of the questions you might have ever had about food.

Celebrity chef who should shut up:

Usually not a big fan of whomever the Food Network gives primetime shows to these days. Like MTV without music, I am afraid that soon there will be no cooking on the food channel.

What's next for you?

Right now I have a lot to do with Raya. We are developing new dishes and working on a lot of fun things for this fall.

Proudest moment as a chef/restaurant owner:

Raya would have to be up there. We have done better than expected considering the young age of the business, and I can thank my great colleagues here at the hotel for that. I think this place is headed to great things.

Favorite music to cook by:

I do not have music in my kitchen, but I don't need it. Most people who know me know that I have an internal jukebox in my head. I always have some song stuck in my head, and there is no pattern or reasoning to the music selection.

Best food city in America:

New York. But I would say California is definitely best food state.

Favorite restaurant in America:

I don't know about my favorite, but I would have to say that Fearings in Dallas is the most exciting. Yhat place always seems to be happening, at least the 3 days I was there.

What you'd like to see more of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:

Have not lived here long enough or went out enough in the short time I have been here to give you a good answer here.

What you'd like to see less of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:

See previous question

Favorite cookbooks:

Under Pressure by Thomas Keller, Momofuku by David Chang, and Fat Duck by Heston Blumenthal

When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?

Have two kids who keep my personal life very busy. Love kids sports, they bring back memories of your childhood.

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

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