One doesn't necessarily have to be under 30 to be an Eater Young Gun. There is also a provision including those promising and talented hospitality industry workers who have been in the business under five years, which is exactly where Ryan Lachaine fits in. The 38 year-old self-proclaimed washed up ex-hockey player from Winnepeg, Canada came down to Houston to go to business school after getting out of the hockey world. He disliked it, got into food, and hasn't looked back. Now he's working at one of the most exciting restaurants in Texas (and the nation), Underbelly, under the award winning chef Chris Shepherd and is one of the 15 esteemed members of the 2013 class of Eater Young Guns.
How did you go from hockey into cooking?
There's not much of a story. I was playing hockey and all that and I quit and I was coaching hockey a little bit. I went to business school at the University of Houston and I just wasn't happy. So I did what everyone told me not to do and quit and went to culinary school.
And after culinary school?
I went to Grativas here in Houston. I followed Jason Gould to Stella Sola, one of Bryan Caswell's restaurant. Then Brian took me over to Reef. I was at Reef for a year. I quit and then I staged for a summer. I was at Husk in Charleston, I was at Herbsaint in New Orleans, Cochon in New Orleans, and Coi in California.
What was it like working with chef Caswell?
Brian was awesome to me. He did a lot. When I was at Stella Sola, I had been working for not even a year. He showed me what to do, and you do a lot of numbers at Reef. It's a high volume restaurant. He helped me a lot and taught me a lot. It was bittersweet to go.
Why did you do those stages?
I'm an older guy. I'm older than the other Young Guns by 10 years. I'm from Canada and I wanted to learn about Southern food. So I went to Husk, and working with Sean Brock and Travis Grimes was awesome. I wanted to learn about that kind of stuff, and from there I got hooked up at Herbsaint and later did a day at Cochon. After that I wanted to work in a fine dining place, so they took me in at Coi.
What were some of the biggest takeaways from those stages?
Being at Husk, they do the same thing that we do here using local farmers. It was an eye opener. It's really tough because you're at the mercy of what your farmers can get you. Seeing how they change the menu based on that is really inspiring.
At Coi, the thought that goes into it and the amount of time that these guys spend prepping was mind boggling. I've never seen anything like it before. Every day they start from scratch and put in long hours and make beautiful food.
How did you end up at Underbelly?
We did a couple of pop-up dinners me and some friends, and one of them worked with Chris [Shepherd]. The restaurant community in Houston is really tight, so I knew Chris a little. But I got to know him and he was looking for sous.
What major lessons have you learned at Underbelly?
We do a lot of local stuff here. I've learned about being able to be creative with local ingredients because you don't have everything you want all the time. We have to redo a lot of our menu every day. Being able to switch gears like that and not overthink things and make yourself crazy is important. And I've learned a lot about ethnic food in our city.
What's your mark on the menu?
We do a big giant pork chop here that's rolled and cured in cornmeal. It's based on a Canadian dish called peameal bacon. We brine the pork in maple syrup and salt water and aromatics for five days, take it out, roll it in cornmeal, let it sit for a day for a crust to form, then we serve it with maple mustard and with a savory bread pudding.
What are your future plans? What's next for you?
I don't know. I'm obviously really really happy here. Maybe in the next little while if I could open my own place that would be nice but there's no rush for that. I'm happy with Chris and at underbelly.
Do you think your experience in hockey relates to your life in the kitchen?
Maybe I like taking beatings. Maybe I'm not that smart. It's hard, it's hard on your body. Maybe playing hockey all those years it prepared me to mentally and physically deal with this lifestyle.