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Brits abroad: Oliver Ridgeway

Brits abroad: Oliver Ridgeway

The executive chef at the Grange restaurant and bar at the Citizen hotel in Sacramento, California, talks to Richard McComb about life in America’s farm-to-fork capital

What made you settle in Sacramento?
I have always liked the West Coast and everything it has to offer, and I needed to find a place where I could raise my family and grow in my career. Sacramento offered all of these things.

What is the Grange restaurant and bar like?
Grange is all things Sacramento. The region’s bounty dictates what I run on my menus. We have an urban feel in the dining room, seasonally inspired craft cocktails and a California-heavy wine list – all of which are big draws – in combination with our frequently changing menus.

What is the style of cooking?
I always like to honour a sense of place anywhere I work. In Sacramento, it’s all about locally grown ingredients. We often use the term “locally grown and Grange crafted”. It’s a true statement – locally inspired modern American food with global influences.

What are your main responsibilities?
Menu development, leadership, directing, marketing and sourcing. I oversee three meal services in Grange. We are open 364 days a year and have a strong catering business. I manage a team of 32 chefs and stewards and work closely with the Grange general manager on the overall running of the restaurant, as well as being active in the community.

How many covers do you do?
On an average day we do 100 for breakfast, 120 for lunch and about 160 for dinner. This rises on a busy day to 150 for breakfast, 180 for lunch and 200 for dinner.

Do you get a different clientele at lunch and dinner?
They are different crowds. For dinner, they are here for more of a foodie time and want to drink good wine. At lunch, you definitely get the power crowd – the businessmen who want to be in and out in an hour.

What is the lunch experience like?
The food is a lot quicker. I do a dish called the Power Lunch and it’s almost a Western bento box. You get a soup, a salad, a half sandwich and a dessert, all on one plate.

Is there a dish your customers won’t let you take off?
The zabuton. In Japanese, it means cushion – it’s a cut of beef cushioned between the end of the rib eye and the chuck. When braised, it is very similar to a short rib.

How do you serve the zabuton?
I smoke it and I braise it in coffee, dried chillies and cinnamon. It has an earthy, smoky flavour. I serve it over soft polenta, shaved radishes, pickled onions and leaves. We sell it like hot cakes. I’ve also served it raw and thin and called it Cowboy Sushi.

What is the biggest challenge?
Work/life balance can be a challenge. I have a great team, though, and find it easier to pull away now.

How does Sacramento’s reputation as the ‘farm to fork’ capital of the States inform your menus?
We have always been, and will continue to be, driven by Sacramento farmers. I continue to celebrate our farmers and ranchers on my menus. I often host dinners on farms to keep the connection relevant.

What is the best part of living and working in Sacramento?
Having accessibility to wonderful produce year round at the local markets, plentiful rivers, trees and a great community of people working together to make the city great. And it doesn’t hurt having Lake Tahoe up the road either.

Is there a downside?
The drought [currently in its fourth year] is very bad right now.

What is Sacramento’s wider dining scene like?
Chefs are proud of the produce and celebrate it on the menus. There is both a progressive scene and a very traditional one.

How do you see your future mapping out?
I have had some pretty great success here. I think I will probably try and venture out on my own. Sacramento is definitely home.

Oliver’s CV
2011-present Executive chef, Grange restaurant and bar, Citizen hotel (Joie de Vivre Hospitality), Sacramento, California, USA
2008-2011 Executive chef and food and beverage director, Inn of the Anasazi (Rosewood Hotels & Resorts), New Mexico, USA
2005-2008 Executive sous chef, the Carlyle (Rosewood Hotels & Resorts), New York, USA
2003-2005 Executive chef (Rosewood Hotels & Resorts) Jumby Bay, Antigua

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