VINO4: Chef Rick Moonen

Cool People. 4 Questions. 1 Bottle of Wine.

Chef Rick Moonen is one of a breed of chefs whose menus are good for the planet as well as their diners. His accolades are long, and he’s been featured on just about every notable foodie magazine, as well as foodie TV show, including Top Chef!  The celebrated seafood chef is a champion of sustainability, a philosophy he practiced during stints at La Côte Basque, Le Cirque, and The Water Club in New York City. His own Manhattan restaurant, rm, was awarded three stars from the New York Times. Now Moonen works his magic at Mandalay Bay’s RM Seafood in Las Vegas. We caught up with Chef and his trendy red glasses and had a conversation.

Chef, music and food go hand in hand; what are you listening to when you’re cooking? What’s getting your juices flowing?

You know when I’m cooking at home, I put on world music. Like African, Latino, any music from all the parts of the world; exotic, sexy, beautiful; it builds up a tempo; keeps me smiling, keeps me cooking, keeps me inspired.

What’s the most exciting dish you’ve created recently, perhaps in a test kitchen, while listening to, and being inspired by world music? 

Funny thing, lately I’ve been playing around a lot with Indian food. I got a tandoor in my backyard; so I was making naan bread. So I made my own harissa, spread the harissa on there, some raita and I then put moroccan cured salmon with black salt and asafoetida. It was amazing. It was buttery; it was like having a bagel, you know like a New York City bagel? Spice, cream; this delicious salmon with an incredibly complex spiced flavour. That’s probably one of the most exciting recently.

[Editors Note: This is when Chef started laughing as our interviewer starts to salivate.]

Chefs have become celebrities over the last 5-7 years, is there a sense of entitlement with younger chefs coming up through the ranks?  

Well, there’s a danger of it.  We went to culinary school to learn the fundamentals of cuisine, made the building blocks. Then you work for several years, screening, learning, developing that skill set. You can’t just do a back hand spring out of the gate. I am afraid that the celebrity status, kind of shortens an understanding and respectability of cooking. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen but a lot of people are a little bit jaded by the craft.

Last question, because we talk about wine culture by pairing it with not only food, but music, film and fashion – we see the red glasses you’re wearing. . .why?! 

(Laughs!) I don’t know. I guess I like to stand out – and I like red!

Chef Moonen will be showcasing his talents Oct 2-4, 2015 at the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival. Enter code CP25 and get $25 off general admission. Cheers.

Chef Moonen and Chef Michael Voltaggio