Interview with Philippe Ruiz of Biltmore's Palme d'Or, Part Two

Chef Philippe Ruiz
Chef Philippe Ruiz
Photo by Jacob Katel

Here's Part Deux of our interview with Philippe Ruiz, executive chef of Palme d'Or at the Biltmore. Read the first part of the interview here. 

You often cook for celebrities and dignitaries. Who was the most impressive or the one who made you the most nervous?

I think everybody is important. 

How about any particular celebrity chefs?

When I started here, we had a long table, a royal table, for VIPs. And every month we had a Michelin chef program. They would spend one week with me. It was tough in the beginning. I had to order their food, we had this big gala dinner, have a cooking class. I had 54 chefs. Only two were difficult.

Who were the problem children?

I'm not going to say. But one came from La Tour d'Argent. I escorted him out. He was screaming after the guys [kitchen crew] and was disorganized.

If you could have one last meal, what would it be?

A Feijoada. Do you know what that is? It's stew of beans from Brazil I had when I was 13 years old. A nice bottle of red wine. A steak, or perhaps a white striped bass on the grill stuffed with fennel, fresh thyme, and garlic, with only lemon juice on the top and olive oil. One steamed potato. A nice tray with 50 different cheeses... 

No dessert?

I'm not a sweet eater.

What's always in your refrigerator at home? 

A lot of cheese.

After a long day at work, what do you do to unwind?

A nice glass of wine. And I cook for me. 

Really? After cooking all day?

Yes. I keep it simple. And I relax. Nobody talk to me for an hour.

Any ingredient you don't like working with? Why?

Foie gras is difficult. It's fast to overcook.

What ingredient or dish is on too many local menus?

Tuna. We need to stop using tuna. Soon we're not going to have any more for our kids.

Most unusual food combination you ever served?

I used to do an olive oil ice cream. With fleur de sel. It was a pre-dessert. 

Anything you refuse to let leave your kitchen?

I don't like sweet with sour, [like] fruit and meat.

Speaking of fruits and meats, how important is knowledge of wine/champagne pairings?

Very important. When you decide to do a menu, you need to think what's going [together] well. Maybe studying wine is something I should've done before. I'm pretty good with the palate. But I'm bad with names.

How important is the notion of value when dining out?

They're still talking about price. They say Palme d'Or is expensive, but it's not. We give an amuse bouche, small chocolates, bread and butter [with their meal]. And there's the quality of service... 

Why did you leave the islands to come to America?

To learn English. They sent me to Paris for Berlitz school. Fifteen days. I put my head in it, but then I didn't practice. That's why I have bad English.

Wait--let me get this straight--they sent a Frenchman from the Caribbean to Paris so he could learn English?

Yes. [He laughs.] They paid for it, so I said, why not? And my pastry chef came to Miami, then me.

What city, in your opinion, has the best dining scene?

Barcelona, on the Basque side.

Do you see Miami as a foodie destination?

People come here to have some really good food, but not spend $300. 

What other Miami chef's style of cooking is closest to yours?

We used to have Christian Delouvrier of La Goulue. It was a small brasserie, but he had the technique and background for fine dining.

Is it that important for chefs to have a place of their own?

Yeah. It's important to try. I know it's tough, but it's a good chance to see if I can make it.

Most exciting young Miami chef today?

Marc Vidal. He's a nice guy. Pretty cool. He's like me; we don't get too crazy and we get the job done.

Plans for the future?

I'm open-minded. Do maybe a cookbook. Maybe do some consulting. But I don't want to lose what I've achieved now. I'd like to stay in the kitchen.

Monday, Part Three: A recipe from the chef.

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