Destination eating

Oliver Ridgeway, executive chef at Grange Restaurant

Photo By Ron nabity

Oliver Ridgeway is the new chef taking over the reins at the prestigious Grange Restaurant in the Citizen Hotel, located at 926 J Street. Sacramento is abuzz about this traveled culinary wanderer applying his unique worldview to Northern California’s bounty of produce.

Where did you train and work before coming to Grange?

I went to school at a catering college in London for three years, and my first real job afterward was working on the Queen Elizabeth II cruise liner. After that, I worked for a few years in Sydney, Australia, and learned some of the local cooking there. A few years later, I moved to New Orleans and worked at the Louisiana Kitchen, which was fascinating since it was a completely new style of cooking I hadn’t been exposed to before. Later, I was working in Salt Lake City for the Winter 2002 Olympic Games before working in both Antigua and, most recently, Santa Fe.

After traveling all over the world, why land in Sacramento?

When I was in Santa Fe, I was very impressed by all the local ingredients they had to offer, but Sacramento is really the place to be for that. It’s a bountiful breadbasket of local produce. I decided to come here to try and put my twist on things.

How do you define your “twist on things?”

I have a very global influence, as I’ve taken something—a style or ingredient or dish or something—from everywhere I’ve worked and applied it to my cooking. I still take influences from wherever I am. Fundamentally, I learned French style [cooking], but I feel that international and modern techniques and styles come very naturally to me and allow me to adapt. I also apply important visual cues to my food and focus on texture by utilizing the ingredients that the area has to offer.

What are some of dishes you put on your first menu?

The first menu had a lot of things I really liked. Smokey pumpkin bisque with crispy duck ham and cumin cream was popular. We did a potato-crusted ahi tuna with a romesco, chanterelle and radish salad. On the menu was also a salad of heirloom beets and North Valley chèvre.

I haven’t had a chance to really get into the dessert menu yet. However, the pastry department and I put together a vanilla panna cotta with spiced poached pears and candied pecans.

Is there anyone in particular who has inspired you?

A lot of people have influenced me. Joseph Youngsworth (I think that was his name, it’s been so long now) was a young Austrian chef I worked under. He was extremely tough on me. If I messed something up, he would toss it out, and then he would make me start over. However, he would work with me through the dish, step by step, carefully instructing me. He led by example, which is something I do my best to do now. His actions made me want to work harder for him. It’s because of this that I won’t ask anything of my cooks that I wouldn’t do myself.

The Grange has a pretty good bar. Any plans for drinks?

Our bartender, Ryan Seng, is an amazing and creative cocktail chef. He has worked with me and my menu for the bourbon dinner we put on. It’s been a great collaborative effort.

Any particular favorite foods or techniques?

I enjoy working with chilies, but I have to be sensitive when I use them, as I know not everyone likes them as I do. I like a lot more flavor than most people—a lot of wow in my dish. Lots of spice gives a dish a certain pop.

I also enjoy using the sous-vide right now; I love the control over temperature. We’re using it for our poached tuna salad right now, and earlier this year we were cooking artichokes in it.

What are your plans for Grange?

Grange has the fundamentals to be the best of its class. We plan to refine local Sacramento food. We’re going to place even more emphasis on service and comfort to ensure that we are a highly frequented destination point. We want to be the place nonlocals have to go and where locals always come.

I also want to start doing more seasonal events and specialty menus. For example, if we’re in the height of tomato season, I want to create a special tomato tasting menu that shows off various varieties of heirloom tomatoes prepared in different ways. I want to be able to teach our customers about the farms the tomatoes come from and the people who grow them.

I also hear rumblings of brunch plans?

Yes. We have the huge, beautiful dining space that really should be filled with people having a pleasant Sunday brunch. I want to actually do a jazz brunch. Get a two-person jazz band in the restaurant to play, serve up some great cocktails, and whip up an amazing brunch menu that Sacramento will really love.