"Most chefs are fat and lazy," says Ricardo Wilson, new chef/partner at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Coral Gables. Okay, so he doesn't sugar coat his opinions. Actually, he'll tell you exactly what he thinks within five minutes of meeting you. And though he might be a bit harsh on his culinary brethren, we'll forgive him precisely because he breaks ranks with most of sweet-speaking kitchen comrades.
At 30, Wilson is far younger than most executive chefs who average about 40, according to 2005 survey by StarChefs. And yeah, he's far from fat or lazy. He's grey-eyed, with a shaved dome and leaner than a Fleming's filet. He also might be one of the few chefs at a steakhouse who does not eat meat. No matter, he says, he knows how to prepare prime cuts of beef with just his keen sense of smell.
"I've been doing this for so long, I can tell you what's in a dish just by smelling it." He's worked in restaurants from Trinidad and Tobago to Canada, and dabbled in an array of obscure culinary tastes, including North African cuisine. "I get bored easily. So I like to try new things. Everybody does Italian. How hard is it to throw some tomatoes in a sauce. I want to do things differently."
And that philosophy extends outside the kitchen. Mostly to the dojo where Wilson is an accomplished mixed martial arts practitioner, specializing in Wing Chun (keep puns to yourself) and Muay Thai. His amateur fighting days are behind him--"I've got a couple of kids and a career to look after"--but he still teaches several nights a week at Zen's Place Mixed Martial Arts in the Gables."
"A lot of people are surprised when they find out I teach martial arts. It's definitely not common," Wilson says. He says he runs his restaurant much like he does his martial arts classes. "There is an order I establish. We have fun when it's time to have fun, but when it comes to performance I give everybody the chance to prove themselves. There is always a challenge and you must overcome it to get to the next level."
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Wilson can be intense in the kitchen and the gym, but he has a lighter side when talking about his disparate interests. "I've chosen my passions carefully, with tactical strategy. As a chef, I feed and fatten up patrons in the restaurant but then I take them to the gym to make them lose the weight," he jokes. "I'll never be unemployed."