Podcast Episode 26

Master Chef Ron DeSantis Talks About Embracing Plant-Based Cooking

Master Chef Ron DeSantis | 38 Minutes | January 18, 2022

In this episode, we chat with Certified Master Chef, Ron DeSantis, Chief Culinary Officer at Hungry Planet, a company specializing in chef-crafted plant-based meats.

Chef Ron is a former U.S. Marine, and self-proclaimed flexitarian, who found his culinary passion later in life. In his over 25-year career he has served as a guest chef at Camp David and the White House, a CIA instructor, and a Director of Culinary Excellence at Yale University. He has partnered with some of the nation’s top brands, including Coca-Cola, Hormel, and now Hungry Planet, driving concept design and the development of innovative, healthy cuisine for kids and adults alike.

Listen as we chat with Chef Ron about plant-based cuisine, the importance of discipline in developing your craft, and experiencing food through different cultures.

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Notes & Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Ron DeSantis, a Certified Master Chef who’s as decorated as a five-star general in the culinary world. Ron has worked with some of the nation’s top institutions in the food industry, driving culinary concept design, the development of innovated cuisine, and training a diverse group of culinary professionals. He’s a life-long learner, educator, and he’s my dear friend.

Join us today as we chat with Ron about his passion for learning.

There he is. Chef, how are you buddy?

Ron DeSantis: I’m great. Thank you so much. I hear those things, and I think to myself, “Who is that guy?”

Kirk Bachmann: Who is that guy?!

Walking Through the Doors

Ron DeSantis: Really, I say that because I’ve been so fortunate in this career to have so many doors open to me and all I’ve done was step through the door. And I’ve been able to do so many things that I look back on. “That was actually some pretty good stuff.” It was really, really good stuff. From meeting the President of the United States, not one, but more, and Heads of State all the way to preparing healthy meals for kids. That’s probably even more important than meeting the people that are running the country in some ways because they’re-

Kirk Bachmann: It’s the future! It’s our future.

Ron DeSantis: I’m impacting these young lives. Thanks for the introduction. It’s going great, let me tell you.

Kirk Bachmann: Sometimes it’s nice to step back and view the show through your lens. Maybe you change a few things here or there, but for the most part, “Hey! That was a pretty good ride.”

Ron DeSantis: I wouldn’t change a thing.

Kirk Bachmann: There you go. There you go. I’ve got to ask. Maybe it was a couple of weeks ago, you traveled all the way over to Dubai, right?

Ron DeSantis: I did. It was a last-minute opportunity, at the invitation of the government to be introduced to plant-based meats.

Kirk Bachmann: Wow!

Ron DeSantis: It was work, but what was even that much more exciting and fun was just experiencing what Dubai is. In such a short period of time, in the desert, creating this unbelievable, cosmopolitan city that rivals any modern city on the planet. But, you take an hour trip west, and you’re deep in the Sahara Desert, which I did as well. Just an incredible, incredible experience being there in the Middle East.

Kirk Bachmann: And that was your first time?

Ron DeSantis: That was the first time in the Middle East, yes. I mean, I’ve always wanted to visit Israel, but that’s as close as I’ve gotten so far.

Only Half a Cup of Coffee

Kirk Bachmann: What was the one thing that really stood out, that surprised you? I see things on the internet of the indoor ski arenas that are as large as our mountain ski resorts.

Ron DeSantis: Kirk, that’s a great question. Here’s the thing that stood out for me: the warmth and the genuine people that are there. I was made welcome like I can’t even imagine. Just as this outsider walking in. The diverse group of people that live there, working together, especially in the food business, making things fun and exciting and tasty for guests. Demonstrating great hospitality and fellowship at the table. It wasn’t surprising – I didn’t really know what to expect – but that’s the thing that I came away with. Just the wonderful group of people that are there.

One little story: We were out in the desert. We got to this oasis where we were going to have dinner. You walk up and there’s a little table there, and they have some dates on there, and they’re pouring coffee. You get a half a cup of coffee. What you’re explained is, in the culture, if you’re giving a half a cup of coffee, you should stay and relax and just enjoy yourself, because it will be refilled. If you get a full cup of coffee, it’s, “Drink it and go!”

Kirk Bachmann: You’re on the clock!

Ron DeSantis: You’re on the clock! Maybe there are other things that the host has to do, and they limited time and they didn’t have enough food. Maybe they don’t like you. Here’s a full cup of coffee. But it’s very civilized to let you know, “Here’s a full cup of coffee. Enjoy the coffee, but now it’s time to go.”

Kirk Bachmann: Subtle but to the point.

Ron DeSantis: Half a cup of coffee, just sit down, enjoy, relax. I just love it. I’m a sucker for those kind of things. I really think it’s a display of hospitality and certain elements of culture that were so valuable for me to experience there.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s wonderful. What a great story. Was the reception of plant-based cooking well-received?

Ron DeSantis: Here’s the thing: because it’s a cosmopolitan city, you have people from all over the world, there are a lot of people looking for meat alternatives. Let me tell you, in the Middle East, they love their kebabs. Kebabs are king.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s culture.

Ron DeSantis: To have an option there that would be a plant-based meat, whether it was a lamb kofta or it was some type of chicken or beef satays, that was very, very well received. The other thing about it is if you can deliver in texture and taste, it’s like, “Just give me good food.” It’s really what it came down to. Give me some really great food.

Diving into Plant-Based Cooking

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that what we all really want? Good food, prepared well. Like so many chefs – and I don’t know when we first met, but we’ve been doing this for a while – but like so many chefs, you came from humble beginnings. You were introduced to cooking. I’d love for you to take us on a brief journey. What about that introduction to cooking, whenever that was in your life, made you decide – or did it take a while to decide – to pursue this career of being a chef?

And then, of course, you taking it to the pinnacle and becoming, ultimately, a Master Chef.

Ron DeSantis: Kirk, I had no idea that people cooked for a living. My father was a school teacher. My grandparents had a local grocery store in a little 2000-person town. I didn’t know that. When I went to the military, they said, “You’re going to be a cook.” I said, “Okay.”

Here’s the thing, sometimes you just get lucky in life. I ended up at a duty station in San Diego – Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego – not in the giant food factory that serves 5000 recruits a day, but in the enlisted, for all the marines that work and live there serving them. The cooks in there loved what they were doing. I got so lucky, because they just said, “Come on. You’re doing this with us.”

Kirk Bachmann: They embraced you.

Ron DeSantis: They show you what you’re doing. They opened my eyes to this really cool thing. Then I realized I had a natural aptitude for it. It took me a long time to be able to say that for myself – that I have a natural aptitude for it, because it sounds bombastic and boasting. I just know how to do. I don’t have to try hard. I do try hard, but it comes naturally, and I’m very, very fortunate about that.

After the service, I went to the Culinary Institute of America, got my degree there. Most of the chef instructors, a lot of them were European, so I figured you had to go to Europe to cook. So I did. Spent five years in Germany. Why Germany? Because they were offering working visas. That was literally the reason.

Spent five years there, came back, worked. Eventually got a teaching position at the CIA. Was fortunate to teach for at least eleven, twelve years, had some administrative posts, Associate Dean, Director of CIA Consulting. Had a great 25-year career, and then was recruited by Yale to head up their Director of Culinary Excellence that oversaw the production of Yale’s 15,000 from-scratch meals a day.

Here’s the thing – I’m going to tie this into plant-based. I have to. Back at the CIA, I was teaching healthy cooking, techniques of healthy cuisine, and because I was teaching it, I figured I was going to practice what I preached. I shifted my diet to primarily plant-based. Probably at the time, I was probably 75 percent plant-based. When I got to Yale, our menu was about 87-88 percent plant-based. That just fed into what I believed in. Then in 2017, I met Todd Boyman, the CEO of Hungry Planet. I tried his food, and I said, “Let’s talk a little bit more. What you’re doing is very, very intriguing. I’m not 100 percent plant-based, but I inch more and more to that. If I was to pick a number, I’m probably about 90 percent. A real flex-itarian. That’s kind of that transition along the way.

So here I am at the later stages of my career, and I’m manufacturing, I’m making food. One of the things that I find especially exciting about this is our mission statement says, “to bend the curve on personal and planetary health.” I am actually doing that. Because of people’s choices of food, they’re eating better and healthier and we’re positively impacting the planet’s health as well. I’m really grateful for where I am, and I’m enjoying the heck out of presenting foods, all the foods behind me, it’s all plant-based. But it just looks like regular food. That’s the good thing. It’s just great food. That’s what it ends up being. It’s great food. So I’ve taken all my experience and my career and I’m able to put this into place to make some great plant-based menu items.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s kind of like a beautiful full circle. You’ve impacted so many people, so many young culinarians that have come to school and then gone out into the industry. You’re working very closely with one of our Escoffier graduates now at Hungry Planet, Shane.

Ron DeSantis: He is. He’s one of our culinary specialists. Shane Witters Hicks, a culinary specialist. Absolutely.

Learning from Local Food

Kirk Bachmann: He’s amazing. We did some plant-based cooking here, so it was a perfect fit.

Do you feel like you’re still in this cycle of learning?

Ron DeSantis: Always. Even the new trip to Dubai. “We’ve got these really great restaurants.” I said, “No fine dining. I do not want to see one fine dining restaurant. I only want to go to where locals are eating.” So I had incredible hummus, muhammara, baba ghanoush, mutabal. Every time you got breads from them, they were just baked, these little light, fluffy pita-like pockets that were dropped on the table. I’m telling you, absolutely fabulous things. Always learning.

This is one of the things that I think most chefs realize. As long as you do our craft, you can always get it better. You can always learn something else about it. You can always find ways to say, “What if I do this now? I’ve been doing this so long it works. Let me tweak it a little bit.” It’s always learning. It’s learning about food itself. It’s about applying heat. It’s always about time and temperature, let me tell you.

And also about learning about new cultures. That’s why my wife and I travel a lot. We just love experiencing cultures and people because it always brings us back to food. That’s one of the things.

Kirk Bachmann: You guys were here in Colorado not too long ago.

Ron DeSantis: That’s right. We were. Let me tell you. We took an incredible hike. I think the peak ended up at 12,600 feet because I’m not the youngest guy in the room. That was a good one for me. On the way down, at the little tiny village of Twin Lakes, there was this little food truck there. I can’t remember what they were called. You know where you take the potatoes and you spin them, and they come out this big long thing. They were frying those people, and people were lined up. I don’t know where they came from! We’re eating these potatoes with their dip and stuff. This is good stuff! This is absolutely amazing experience out in the middle of the Rockies.

Kirk Bachmann: At 10,000 feet. When you’re at Twin Lakes. What mountain did you climb there? Which one was twelve-six? Was that Yale, ironically?

Ron DeSantis: No, we were in between all of the collegiate peaks. We went up to Ptarmigan Lake. Ptarmigan Lake sits up there, I’m pretty sure it’s around twelve-six. Then we went to Cottonwood Pass and did another 700 feet to the top of that thing, too.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s beautiful. Cottonwood Pass is paved now. For so many years it wasn’t paved.

Ron DeSantis: Oh really. I got lucky.

Kirk Bachmann: You did. Imagine the dust storm up there at 12,000 feet.

Ron DeSantis: Where I’m going with that is, even in Colorado. Here you go out there and you’re in the middle in the wilderness, and there’s people just loving what they’re doing. They’ve got this little wagon. They’re making these really great little burgers, these fun potatoes. You’re sitting outside.

Kirk Bachmann: And they’re finding an audience that wants them.

Ron DeSantis: It’s a great experience. This is what it is. It doesn’t have to be a three Michelin Star restaurant to have a fun experience. That’s the learning that you can always do when you’re involved in food.

A Lesson in Respect

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it. You mentioned your time in the military. Before we go away from that, I wanted to just ask. Over the years that I’ve known you, the things that have really impressed me are your passion, your respect for the craft. Your respect for the craft. Good food, just like we’ve talked about today. Did serving in the military shape some of that discipline, that approach to cooking in a very respectful way?

Ron DeSantis: In many, many ways. The good ones were you learn how important it is. Because basically every day is a banquet. That’s basically what it is. It’s a dynamic menu because it changes every single day, which in hindsight helped me for college and university dining, which changes every single day. How you plan for that and execute, because when those marines lined up, they have a finite period of time that they need to go through that chow line, eat, and get back to what they’re doing. The discipline of who does what, when is it done, how is it done? Here is the thing: people in the old days used to make fun of military cooking, but progressive cooking was always part of the best dining halls. You had to progressively cook because you had to think about it; we had an opportunity to impact these marines lives just three times a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Do the best you can do. Do the best you can do.

So me, know-it-all 18-year-old, I started to get a little belligerent to one of the marines at the breakfast, making his eggs.

Kirk Bachmann: No! You?!

Ron DeSantis: Yeah. Once I said, “Here. Eggs. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.” He stepped aside. My company commander was standing just like this. Right behind him. When we were done, he was like, “Come over here.” He was like, “Who do you think you are? You just ruined that guys day. Think about it.” You know what? That hit me like a ton of bricks. I never forgot it, and I never, ever went down that road again. Because this guy simply came in and wanted some eggs, and I was being an idiot about the eggs. So what? Scramble his eggs and hand him some eggs and say, “Have a nice day.” What’s so hard about that?

Kirk Bachmann: He was your customer. He was your customer.

Ron DeSantis: Exactly. I learned the discipline of doing things. And I also learned, very importantly, what it means to be a chef and serving your guests. They may not always be right, but you want to make them feel like they’re right.

Real Motivation

Kirk Bachmann: They are your guest. That’s a good lesson.

So Chef, throughout your career, you’ve received many awards, including the ACF President’s Medallion for all the contributions that you had to the Master Chef Exam. You started to allude to this a little bit at the beginning, but I’m curious, what do these awards mean to you later in your career? Did they motivate you then and do they motivate you today? It’s a great story.

Ron DeSantis: So Kirk, I never did anything with the intent that I might get an award. It was my desire to help the project, my desire to help the industry, my desire to participate and be a positive influence and making things better for the people coming after me. Giving back or paying forward, however you describe today. It was never about getting an award.

Getting an award, it’s simply the fact that, “You know what? Somebody paid attention.” You know what? It feels very good. Make no mistake about it. If you’re efforts are recognized, you feel good about that. What does that do? It interests you and it inspires me to do more. That’s where that is right now. But it was never to get an award.

The only things that I did to get was the Certified Master Chef. I drove myself on that one. On that, I wanted to prove to me that I could meet the standard. That I could meet this incredibly high standard. That’s why I did that. Because I didn’t get a promotion out of it. I was in a great place. I was in the CIA doing incredible things. It was just a great, great 25-year career there. But it was for me to prove to me that I could meet the standards of others that are Master Chefs.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. The story you hear, and I’m sure everyone has a different story. We’re talking about learning and education. Often times when you go to an event, it’s about learning something. There’s an agenda, and here are some of the learning outcomes that we’re going to discuss. But I’ve been told by more than one Master Chef who’s complete the exam that that exam is not something that you go to learn. You have to know your craft when you show up for those eight days. If there’s some learning that takes place, great. But you’re not there to learn. You have to demonstrate what you know. Is that pretty accurate?

Ron DeSantis: It’s exactly that. The idea, the notion behind it in my view of this is go to demonstrate mastery of a craft. You don’t go to check boxes. If you say, “Well, I’ve studied that, and I studied that, I studied that.” I’ve seen too many people that can check boxes, but they haven’t mastered the craft. It’s hard to really define what does that mean. You have to cook really well. I get that. At the same time, you have to know some background about the history of the dishes. You need to understand where things come from. You need to be able to talk to your potential peers about what you did, why you did it, how you did it, without being cocky.

Kirk Bachmann: Sure. Sure. And the cost control piece of it is important too.

Ron DeSantis: All of that is. And how you interact with your apprentice is important, and knowing the nutritional profile of the foods are important. If someone gives you some frozen oxtails, what are you going to do and have it ready in about three-and-a-half to four hours? Those are some of the things that take place.

Kirk Bachmann: Mastering the craft.

As an educator and someone who for many years has trained and elevated the skills of others – other chefs, other cooks – what are, in your opinion, some of the most important concepts or characteristics that you try or hope to instill into students that you mentor currently and have mentored? What are the things, the takeaways that you’re looking to provide?

Ron DeSantis: That’s a very, very good question. You definitely want to provide and help them to understand the technical aspect of what we’re doing. As much of the science so that they can understand it. Help them through applying all those types of technology around it.

The other part is, “What can I do to inspire them?” Here’s the thing: I’m not always convinced you can motivate people. In some ways, motivation is kind of built in. But you can inspire. You can get that spark to inspire them that gets that motivation fired up. So what do you do to inspire them? What types of things? It’s going to be different for a lot of people, so you’ve got a class of 20 people, it’s going to be hard to tailor to every one. But you demonstrate your bearing. You demonstrate values. You demonstrate commitment to excellence. You demonstrate these things with the hope that that will inspire people to say, “I get what this is about.”

Here’s the thing, Chef. It doesn’t have to be inspire somebody to be a three Michelin Star chef. That’s for some people, but it’s not for everybody. I’ve done star restaurants, and I enjoy the heck out of it. But you know what? I’m enjoying manufacturing food! I just recently went out and worked on a food truck in a couple cities because we did some plant-based pizza toppings. I had a blast! On the food truck, I had a blast doing it! When I worked with my Navy friends in their dining halls, I enjoy the heck out of that because it’s like, “You guys are lazy, man!” Some of them. Some of them.

“You guys are lazy. We’re going to cook progressively.”

“Well, we could put it in the hot box.”

“Well, we’re not going to put it in a hot box, because even if you put in the hot box, you can’t go home. So let’s do it right! Let’s go progressively.”

Kirk Bachmann: I love it.

Ron DeSantis: Those are the kinds of things that I think are really valuable when you’re working with people. It doesn’t have to be only new culinarians or fresh culinarians. Those types of things apply to anybody that you’re around any time. You can get stale at some things. You just need one person to come in and fire you up. “You know what? That’s exactly right. That’s where I’m going to be.”

Kirk Bachmann: And sometimes it kicks you in the behind years later. “You know what? Chef Ron DeSantis told me that six years ago. I should have paid attention.”

Let’s talk a little bit passion, maybe get a little bit emotional. Finding one’s passion. Our family, too, I would say over the last two or three years has become about 80/20 as our good friend Chad Sarno always says, “Just eat more vegetables more often.” I’d say 80/20. Our family’s drive and my children’s drive and my own drive, and yours as well is to just live a fulfilled life. Just do the best we can. And sometimes we need some help walking down that path. Then all of a sudden we sort of know we’re in the right place. My second-oldest daughter, Kirsten , is a physical therapist. It’s just so great to talk to her because she knows she’s found her calling. Wasn’t always easy. School was hard, but she’s found her calling. Even through the pandemic. Taking care of people, helping them, that’s what she was meant to do.

I love this, and pour the emotion into it, but how did you know that you had found your place? The military, CIA, great teaching for a quarter of a decade. Was there a specific time when you knew?

I’ll share my story after you. When did you know that you had found your place?

Ron DeSantis: I’m a late bloomer on a lot of things. Just a later bloomer on a lot.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s okay. Better late than never.

Ron DeSantis: I was working as a chef. Then I was at the CIA. I wanted to be an administrator. You know, I did that for a while. But I realized that there was a comfort and peace when you’re actually just in there working with food and making things and getting people that say, “Hey! This is absolutely fantastic.” So it probably was late ‘90s when I finally settled in.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was like, “I want to be a chef.” No. I had already been doing it for quite a number of years. But I finally realized: I don’t really need to wear a suit. I don’t need to do these other things. I really, really want to be known. People know me with a chef coat on. They know me about talking and being excited about food. Sometimes I get lucky and I get really good food that I put onto a plate, and they know me for that. That’s when I realized, that’s what it’s about. That’s exactly what it’s about. And once that’s in here, my what and my why, things start to really fall into place.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s probably one of the number one questions we get from students. They’ll raise their hand and they’ll say, “When will I be a chef? When will I be a chef?” And I always take the easy way out. I always say, “It’s not for us to say. Some of you may be being paid in the industry working as a chef. When other people call you a chef, I guess then you’re a chef.”

I remember – I’ll be really brief with this. I’ve told this story before. My mom was ill, and my dad had taken her to San Diego to be with my sister and go through some chemo and different things like that. They leave me alone with the restaurant, and my dad’s reputation for incredible pastries. We wrap up a really busy Saturday night, and I realize I’ve got to get the brunch ready. I know that I’m going to pull an all-nighter. The hardest part, what I left for last, probably about two or three in the morning, I had to make the pate a choux and I had to make the cream puffs. In the oven they go. A few minutes later they come out. That was one of those moments like you talk about, where I just kind of stopped and was like, “I’m here. This is what I’m going to do. This is what I’m going to do.” Serendipitous in a crazy kind of way.

I’ve got to ask. I apologize. I could just talk for hours to you, and I really enjoy it. I really want to talk a minute about some of these prestigious organizations and institutions that you’ve worked with. You’ve mentioned a couple: Yale, Culinary Institute of America. You’ve worked with brands, big brands. Coca-Cola, Hormel, Duncan Hines, Hungry Planet. What’s it like? Is that an amazing amount of pressure? Those are big, big names. What’s it like to work and consult and provide feedback that they have to put into action with big brands like that?

Finding the “Solve” with Food

Ron DeSantis: Kirk, I actually never thought of it that way, but when you put it like that, it is. Here’s the thing that I’ve always reminded companies. I’ve said this too many times. “Don’t forget you’re a food company.” You know what? We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to have thought leadership. And we’ve got to have shareholders. It’s like, “Yeah, but you’re making food! Don’t forget.”

For me, I try to bake it back to something everybody can galvanize around. When I consult with companies, I figure you’re really paying me to be straightforward with you. Otherwise you’re wasting your money, and my reputation isn’t worth anything. I’m going to tell you the stuff the other people aren’t going to tell you. I’ll be diplomatic about it. I’m not foolish about those things. But I’m going to be straightforward with CEOs and presidents and culinary teams. When you get to that, you see this, “What do you mean?!” And then you say, “Well, here it is.” And they’re smart people. That’s why they’re running these things. And they’re like, “Hmm. Alright. So what do we do?” So that’s a bigger conversation and it’s not just me saying, “This is what we do.” We have to bring people in to play.

I just love working on those types of things. I love being a part of helping solve these types of – they’re not always problems, some are – but how do you solve things? What is the “solve?” What can we do? What do we need to do to get there? That’s my approach to that.

I was called in to train the chefs at Camp David. Not just the President’s chefs, but the ones that feed everybody else there. For me, that was pretty high task, but at the same time, it’s about making food. Right?

Kirk Bachmann: Don’t leave us hanging on that! You did some work at the White House with the White House around menus for children. Am I right there?

Ron DeSantis: That was the White House and the USDA and that was healthy cuisine for kids. It’s still in existence. Right now, a very close friend and colleague of mine that used to be at the CIA, Kathy Powers, she’s a registered dietitian. She is still working Healthy Cuisine for Kids. Here’s the thing: what do we do in these meal situations that we can make these foods be interesting for kids? So what do you do? You give them a piece of hand fruit: apple, orange, things like that. You know what? Where’s the hand fruit go?

Kirk Bachmann: Not interesting to them.

Ron DeSantis: What is interesting? Cut the apple up! They’ll eat the darn apple if it’s cut up.

Kirk Bachmann: Sure they will.

Ron DeSantis: I’ll tell you a quick story about that. There was one time I saw the most innovative thing out at the Los Angeles Unified School District. I wish I could remember the man’s name. He figured out, “Here’s what we’re going to do with this.” On the way to the little trash can, there’s a table. He called it some interesting name. What you would do, if you didn’t eat anything like that on there, you put it on the table. What happened? The kids that really needed that food at the end of the meal period, the table would be empty, because that food got eaten then. Because there are over 17,000 families living in garages and street and tents and cars in Los Angeles. Those kids are going to school. Those are the kids that are getting those extra, those types of things that weren’t eaten by the other kids. It’s sad, but at least somebody found the solve for it. He found the solution to that. He found the solution. Instead of throwing that thing away, you can put it in a table and somebody that wants it is going to take that and eat it.

I’ll tell you what. I am in awe of what they do as hard as they work at the LA Unified, to do the right thing for these kids. Absolutely fantastic.

Chef Ron DeSantis’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: Chef Annie Cooper, who lives right down the road, would have loved that story.

You know what, we’ve been chatting so much that we’re coming to the end of our time. I can’t even believe it. I’m going to have to have you come back, because I want to do a whole session on food entrepreneurship. I think that can take us a whole other hour.

But before I let you go, Chef, the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. So Chef – Master Chef – Ron DeSantis, what is the ultimate dish?

Ron DeSantis: Chef! It’s like which one of your kids do you like the best. Right?

Kirk Bachmann: Just give me one of them. Give me one of them.

Ron DeSantis: You want to know what’s my go-to meal. My go-to meal is incredibly, really, quickly high-temperature roasted cauliflower. Simply salt, some fresh thyme on it. If I’m lucky, a little bit of bacon finds it in there. I keep it as simple as that. That’s about as most go-to ultimate dish that I really, really enjoy on an ongoing thing. I wish it was some kind of crazy kind of thing. It’s just really great vegetable handled the right way, the right temperature applied to it, seasoned perfectly, cooked right to that moment. You have caramelization. You’ve got texture. You’ve got great flavor. You’ve got everything you can imagine happens right then and there. And you go a little crazy, you can make a little tahini dressing and drizzle it over the top and toasted sesame seeds with that. Some fresh, bright sprigs of cilantro or fresh coriander as it’s called in the Middle East. And now you’ve got something to talk about.

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that amazing? From a Master Chef, something as simple but as beautiful as a high-seared cauliflower dish. I love it. Did some of that come from the time you spent in Europe? Because that was a three-times a week meal in my German household. Sometimes an egg on top. Sometimes not.

Ron DeSantis: There you go. See that. That’s right. We were pretty meat-centric while I was there. That was my transition when I was teaching healthy cuisine. “All right. What can I do?” That was that transition, finding the right things to have.

Kirk Bachmann: Lots of rouladen and sauerbraten and wiener schnitzel for you over there.

Ron DeSantis: Oh yeah. Mmm-hmm. Schreineschaufilet. Oh yeah.

Kirk Bachmann: Hey, Chef. Thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it. It’s good to see you. I hope that you have a beautiful holiday season.

Ron DeSantis: Thank you. I wish the same for you and your family. I truly appreciate the time to talk about food and life with you. Keep up the good work, man. I love watching your podcasts.

Kirk Bachmann: Thanks so much, Chef. Appreciate it.

And thank you for listening to The Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast including notes, links, and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.

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