Our intent on presenting Ryan Ratino with a no-cook challenge seemed worthy: Chefs are comfortable with flames and heat, so he might have to work hard at creating a three-course menu that mere-mortal cooks could reproduce at home.
So much for that. The 27-year-old executive chef who ran the kitchen for Ripple’s last eight months and is opening a new restaurant along the 14th Street corridor in the District has long been fascinated with cold foods and raw proteins.
Garde-manger (guard mohn-ZHAY), the French-named station that handles those components in a restaurant kitchen, “was one of my favorite things at the start of my culinary career,” Ratino says. “You don’t have to worry about a hot dish cooling off before it gets to the table. I was able to be the most artistic, I think, because I could take the time to make a plate look beautiful.”
The chef’s attention to detail is evident in the dishes he created for Washington Post readers. For an appetizer that could also serve as a vegetarian entree, Ratino used the same chunky kale, cashew and avocado pesto that diners loved at Ripple to top slices of ciabatta. The bright sweetness of marinated tomatoes complements and cuts through the creamy fattiness, he says.
The preparation for his crudo main dish employs a few smart professional techniques. A quick “cure” adds flavor and tightens up the texture of the fish, making it easier to slice thin. The ribbons of marinated vegetables on top provide an acidic counterpoint to the fish and olive oil used. “The dish tastes clean and fresh,” Ratino says. We agree — and it makes a pretty plate.
For dessert, we allowed a microwave; even though this was a no-cook challenge, the impetus behind it is to keep from heating up the kitchen, and 40 seconds on full power won’t prompt the AC to kick in. Plus, it’s just a fun recipe you might want to wait and prepare with an audience.
Ratino remembered an old José Andrés brioche dough dispensed via a foam-whip canister that puffed almost instantly in the microwave. So our chef tweaked the idea, with a batter that is less fatty and a bit sweeter. It comes together in a blender and puffs to the tenderest sponge in less than a minute. Then you simply tear it into a few craggy pieces and pair it with sweetened strawberries, vanilla whipped cream and small, aromatic basil leaves.
“It’s fun. It’s casual,” he says. “You could macerate any fruit you like. I guess this one’s a play on strawberry shortcake — without the baking hassle.”
With knife work and special tools kept to a minimum, we think the chef met our challenge, and then some.