Ryan Lachaine is exactly the guy you want on your right during a dirty service. The squawking printer, the tickets pooling at the bottom of the station; the split second you can't afford to lose when noticing it all...that now is gone.
His brain moves twice as fast as he speaks, and if I had my guess, his hands are about the same.
Like more than a few business students before him, Lachaine was called to the kitchen. He attended the Art Institute of Houston and after completion worked at a few places in town; most notably Reef and as chef de cuisine to Chris Shepherd at Underbelly. The rough and tumble of a kitchen seemed an easy transition for the Canada native and former hockey player and coach.
Lachaine opened Riel in January 2017; which people still rave about as the hot new restaurant. The chef is refreshingly matter of fact about any question pitched, and while he answers them acutely, he's not impulsive. Lachaine will wait as long it takes to put the right dish or product on the menu.
The Houston Press and chef Ryan Lachaine sat down in the dining room of Riel, her ice water and his Coca-Cola were never touched as they blew through the interview in a record eight minutes and twenty seconds...
HP: Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur?
RL: Patrick Roy.
RL: (Says really fast) Because I used to be a Montreal Canadians fan.
HP: You what?
RL: Because I used to be… I'm a Montreal Canadians fan. He played for the Canadians for years.
HP: What's the best way to take a punch?
RL: Probably in the forehead (laughs.)
HP: Don't you kind of love that feeling right before you're about to get in a fight?
HP: Even on the ice?
HP: What was it about business school that made you want to be a chef?
RL: About what?
HP: What was it about business school that made you want to be a chef?
RL: Umm. I just hated going to business school, it wasn't for me. And I kinda liked cooking so I left and went to culinary school.
RL: Just fucking quit.
HP: In this town, you've got pierogies on lock, what else do you feel like you execute really well?
RL: I think we do the borscht really well.
HP: I was just reading about that.
RL: It's good.
HP: Can you share anything about it.
RL: What do you mean?
HP: Like any tricks.
RL: For the borscht, the pierogis or both?
HP: For the borscht.
RL: We use a shitload of dill in it. We literally [take] a whole handful of dill weed, twine it up, and throw it in there [to] cook. There is tons of dill. You can't really taste it, but there is tons of dill. I love dill. I think it's underrated.
RL: I fucking love dill. (Laughs) Yeah, I put it in everything.
HP: What would you like to learn how to make next?
RL: (Breathes in.) Aww shit. That's a hard one. You know what? We're working on trying to perfect egg rolls. Like, real shrimp egg rolls. And it's been a fucking pain in my ass. I am not happy with them.
HP: Like, where are you at?
RL: Like, I have the filling down. I just can't get them wrapped properly. So, what we're doing is using a whole shrimp, like the head and the tail, leaving it on, and just peeling the body. And then slitting them, putting the filling in there and wrapping. [We're] trying to fill them like that.
HP: That's badass.
RL: It's a fucking pain in the ass.
HP: Like it falls apart in the fryer?
RL: I've probably tried it with ten different types of wonton skins. I can't get the right one. Sometimes they are brown at the ends or they're not sealed properly. It's been a work in progress for a couple months.
HP: Well, it will be exciting when you nail it.
RL: It's going to be good. I made my own duck sauce and Chinese mustard, like the things you get in the packets.
HP: What ingredient are you really into right now?
RL: Umm, that's a tough one. We got this awesome corn in from Florida, from Covey Rise. And you know it's pretty early for corn, but it's fucking awesome.
HP: Is it the baby ones?
RL: No. It's full corn. I thought it wouldn't be good because it's so early, but it's good. Sweet.
HP: What's your favorite season to cook for?
RL: I'd have to say spring.
HP: What's your favorite bit of pork?
RL: My favorite what?
HP: Bit of pork.
RL: I like bacon. It's kind of boring but...
HP: Do you get thick cut?
RL: I get thick cut bacon.
HP: What's the fastest you've driven down Fairview?
RL: Shit, 60 or 70.
HP: Oh boy.
HP: Doesn't it suck when you hit that school zone?
RL: Yeah. I think I blew through that too. (Laughs) I was in a hurry, I had to get here for something. But yeah, I was bombing down here pretty fast.
HP: I mean 60 on Fairview is really fast.
RL: Yeah (laughs.)
HP: What song would we find playing in your car right now?
RL: Umm, shit, I can tell you right now what was on. (Pulls out cell phone and opens Spotify.)
HP: Twinz Big Pun, nice. Tell me a little bit about your tattoos…
RL: I get these on the road when I travel to cook. Like, this one [I got] in Montreal, this one in New York, this one in L.A. That one in Raleigh-Durham. This one here I got from a porn star in Belize.
HP: From a porn star in Belize?
RL: Yeah, an old porn star, she's doing tattoos in Belize now, man.
HP: That's great.
RL: Yeah, I got this one in New Orleans like a month ago, this I got in Alaska…
HP: Can I get a picture?
RL: Which one do you want? The porn star one or the…
HP: Let's do that one, yes, and definitely the porn star one. So, the brass knuckles from Raleigh, what was that about?
RL: We just pick stuff off the wall.
HP: Do you have them anywhere else on your body?
RL: I have a couple, yeah, on my leg, on my back.
HP: Say I want to open a restaurant, how does one go about getting investors?
RL: You just have to find people that kind of believe in you. (Laughs) And are dumb enough to invest in a restaurant. Right?
HP: (Nods.) What's it like to own your own restaurant?
RL: Owning a restaurant is very, very hard. You think you have an idea about all the money you're going to spend, all the stuff you're going to buy, this and that, but it's always way, way more. You've ran someone else's restaurant before, you understand kitchen stuff and what things cost. You have no idea what tables and chairs cost, what lights cost, what a sound system costs, and all that kinda stuff.
HP: Chairs are expensive.
RL: Chairs are expensive. Tables are expensive, you know? Hoods are expensive. It's a lot of upkeep. Restaurants are very fluid. People are always coming and going. Things get busted or things don't work, and it always happens at the worst time.
HP: Stuff breaks all the time.
RL: Yeah, like the bathroom. And it always happens in the middle of service. [Last night] there was a line because we only had one bathroom working.
HP: There was a what.
RL: There was a line in the bathroom, there was only one bathroom.
HP: Yeah. Wait, which bathroom?
RL: The first one…
HP: No, I know, but what was wrong with it?
RL: The sink.
HP: The sink, okay. Because I had to go to the bathroom so bad when I got here that I just went in the one that said "not working." I didn't want to wait.
RL: Yeah, it's fucked up. It's always something.
RL: Like the AC's not working properly or, you know, when we first opened, it got real, real cold one night. You could almost see your fucking breath in here. I ran to Target to buy space heaters. So, we just gave everyone Hot Toddy's, got everyone wasted. (Laughs) Tableside Hot Toddy's.
HP: Sounds good to me.
RL: Had to do something.
HP: Good, quick thinking.
RL: You gotta be creative sometimes.
The Houston Press begins to walk out the door while the Riel staff is settling into a large wooden table in the bar…
HP: What's for family meal today?
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HP: Quesadilla's! Who made them?
Someone: Gary made them.