Former Underbelly sous chef Ryan Lachaine has been off the foodie radar since his unexpected departure from the restaurant in November, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been active in the culinary world. Lachaine sat down with CultureMap to discuss his recent travels and prospects for the future. He politely declined to discuss his time at Underbelly or the reasons it came to an end.
Just days after Lachaine's abrupt departure from Underbelly, a waitress sued the restaurant for "emotional distress." Lachaine isn't named in the suit and there's no indication that he's involved.
For the last two months, Lachaine says that he's mostly "been at home, been hanging out with my kids for awhile, being a dad for a little while, (and) having some fun," but he couldn't turn down an invitation from Foreign and Domestic chef/owner Ned Elliot to participate in Indie Chefs Week, which is a week-long series of dinners held at the Austin restaurant in which chefs from around the country gather to serve cutting-edge cuisine.
"Got a couple things I’m looking into . . . I’m not sure how soon, but I’ll be back in a restaurant."
"It was an awesome time," Lachaine recalls."The way it worked was it went Tuesday to Saturday. Seven cooks on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Then 24 guys going Saturday: Very, very organized. We emailed the stuff we wanted for our dishes. You put your dish together. The other days you just tried to stay out of everyone else’s way.
"Saturday is a little fucking crazy, but an awesome group of guys. It worked out really smoothly for having 24 guys in a restaurant."
Seeing as Lachaine's primary cooking experience comes from time at both Reef and Underbelly, it's no surprise that his dishes blended Asian techniques with Gulf Coast ingredients. On Wednesday, he served charred Carolina rice with gochujang (a spicy, Korean paste), pickled vegetables and water spinach sourced from Houston fishmonger PJ Stoops. On Saturday, he served red pepper and watermelon gazpacho with pickled shrimp.
"I’m usually never happy with what I cook," Lachaine says, "but the guys cooking said it was good. That’s nice to hear."
In February, Lachaine will travel to his hometown of Winnipeg to participate in the RAW:ALMOND pop-up that's a collaboration between restaurant Deer + Almond and the Raw Gallery. The pop-up is unlike any other in the world.
"Basically, they’re building a big tent and makeshift kitchen on one of the major rivers that flows through the city," he says. "We’re cooking outside there."
He still hasn't decided what to serve on a tent in the middle of a frozen river, but the experience should be memorable. "I’ve never cooked in my hometown before. When I was up there, we spoke about it, and he said come on and do it. I’m really excited about it."
Lachaine doesn't know yet what the more distant future holds. "I’ve spoken to some people and sat down with some guys. Got a couple things I’m looking into . . . I’m not sure how soon, but I’ll be back in a restaurant."
Asked about whether he would follow Shepherd and Caswell's path in terms of style of cuisine, Lachaine responds in the affirmative. "Definitely, it’s all I know," he says. "It’s fun to do. You can play with some stuff."
In the meantime, any Houstonian who is desperate for his cuisine can make plans to fly to Winnipeg in February. Just dress warmly.