Ron Siegel, chef of Parallel 37 in the Ritz-Carlton, has worked in three- and four-star restaurants for 20 years. In 1998, Siegel, then the chef at Charles Nob Hill, received international fame when he became the first American to win Iron Chef - the original Japanese show, not its Food Network counterpart.
The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, where he has been chef since 2004, recently closed to reopen as a more casual restaurant called Parallel 37. SFoodie interviewed Siegel about the transition from haute cuisine to what the chef calls "SF casual" food. Read the first part of our interview here; tomorrow, we'll publish one of his recipes.
SFoodie: What challenges have you been presented with in making this transition from fine dining to more casual food?
Siegel: It's a faster pace, for sure. People are in and out in a lot quicker time. But while Parallel 37 is more causal, it's SF casual. It's not like everything looks precious, but we still want to buy those nice ingredients and treat them with as much respect as possible.
What has been the most liberating about this change?
I must say it's really nice to plan a menu that doesn't have lobster on it for the first time in 15 years. Who knows, maybe I'll put lobster on next week, but right now I'm just happy with the way the menu is.
How would you describe your current menu?
It's basically contemporary American, pulling from all aspects of different cultures in the Bay Area, like North Beach and Chinatown. We're using lots of different ingredients, but things are not overly manipulated.
How might similar ingredients have been prepared for The Dining Room at Ritz-Carlton as opposed to Parallel 37?
Things might have had caviar. Small portions back then, too. When you're cooking something meant to be a smaller portion, it can have certain flavors because you're only eating a few bites of it. But when you have to eat a whole plate of it, maybe you rethink the dish, maybe there's too much flavor. I think you can have more playfulness with smaller portions because it's going to be gone in three bites, right? You can go big and then it's over.
Do you have a personal favorite dish right now?
The rock cod entrée and right now, the carrot ravioli. I'm telling you, you're never going to find a better carrot than you are right now. Carrots love that cold weather. It's hard to explain that to people - you think "carrot ravioli" and you probably think boring - but it's like really, really good. It's like eating candy.
Having traveled so much, do you have a favorite food city?
If I could go back to any city and money didn't matter, I'd go to Barcelona. It's not all spheres and salts and gels - there are a lot of simplistic restaurants in Spain, too - but overall it's an exciting place, and the food is really exciting. Or Japan. Japan always has a really special place in my heart. I love the simplicity of it all. You go an have a great meal and then they give you a persimmon on a plate and that's your dessert and it's the best persimmon you've ever had in your life. That's kind of special.