This article first published Feb. 21, 2018. It was updated March 6, 2018.
Chef Richard Gras is a name dropper — and he’s the new executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte. His 20-year career has taken him all over the world to cook at prestigious restaurants and hotels under award-winning chefs. He’s passionate about his work, grateful for the opportunities and experiences that have shaped his career and willing to share his personal story.
New to North Carolina, Gras is calling Charlotte home after just three months working as executive chef.
But first, a look at items on the newly formed menu at the hotel. Here are 9 dishes and drinks under $20 to try, to get classy without the cost:
Small plates in The Punch Room:
Potato Croquettes, $9
Yellow Tail Sashimi, $16
Lobster Roll, $18
Pair with a craft cocktail:
The Curtain with Remy 1738, thyme dill garlic syrup, egg white and jalapeno dust; $18
Ice with Plantation Rum, vanilla syrup and malt; $17
White Eyes with Plymouth Gin, rosemary syrup, fresh pear juice; $17
K Lounge’s Southern-styled appetizers:
Deviled eggs, $14
Pimento cheese, $8
Smoked pork belly, $8
“Is North Carolina my forever place? I think it is,” Gras said. “I’ve always wanted to settle down in North Carolina or South Carolina.”
He’s already toured museums to learn about the history, read books about southern culture and wants to be mindful of the area’s heritage in how he develops his menus.
Products like Cheerwine and Krispy Kreme doughnuts may find their way into the guest experience as amenities. Banquet and restaurant menus will be driven by the produce grown on the hotel’s rooftop farm and at local farms, and he plans to include cheese from local makers. Look for deviled eggs, pimento cheese and smoked pork belly at the K Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte’s lobby bar.
The Punch Room, known for its craft cocktails, will offer a creative and adventurous menu featuring crispy potato croquettes made from éclair dough (pate a choux), topped with vodka crème fraiche and caviar, yellow tail dish served raw with a mushroom vinaigrette, avocado, and yuzu, Maine lobster roll, and Brussels sprouts infused with balsamic served with freshly sliced apple, rosemary, and pecans.
The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte executive chef position offered Gras the opportunity to be impactful. “I did not want a big hotel,” he said. “At heart, I am a cook. I want to be able to say hello and goodbye to all my employees every day. I want to be able to work with them hands-on.”
Gras isn’t new to the The Ritz-Carlton family. He landed his first summer internship with The Ritz-Carlton when he was a junior at Johnson & Wales University (JWU) in Rhode Island. He worked on Amelia Island in Florida at the hotel’s Café 4750 under Sonny Sweetman, known for being Oprah’s personal chef. One day, Gras was not ready for service. Sweetman noticed, kicked Gras off the line and threw out his mis en place, (“a place for everything” ingredients for the menu).
Gras never repeated that mistake again and worked with The Ritz-Carlton properties for more than 10 years after graduating from JWU.
Gras’ interest in cooking developed as the result of creative parenting. In his hometown of Troy, N.Y., a 15-year old Gras broke his older brother’s thumb in a fight. As punishment, Gras’ parents made him cook breakfast and lunch for his brother for the entire summer.
“The love for cooking started there,” Gras said. “Through high school, I took all of the home economic courses, did vocational school my senior year. I got scholarships and then went to Johnson & Wales.”
The excitement Gras has for the future of the hotel is obvious. Overall, he wants guests to have a one-of-a-kind experience — one that represents North Carolina. His plans include serving local beers and cheeses and creating in-house hot sauces using honey made by the bees on the hotel’s roof. Gras’ ideas range from a star chef series highlighting up and coming chefs to rooftop wine and dinner tastings.
“I’m here to put some really great food onto a plate in an amazing atmosphere with great service and really complete an experience,” Gras said.
Photos: Justin Driscoll