Ris Lacoste ended her decade-long tenure at Georgetown’s 1789 on New Year’s Eve of 2005, and though she’s kept busy the past few years with consulting and charity projects, she can’t wait to get back into the kitchen full-time. “It’s my life. I love it and I really miss it,” says the Massachusetts-born, French-trained chef.
This past August, Lacoste signed a lease for the restaurant she’s been dreaming about for years. Called Ris, the dining room will be in the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton (23rd and L sts., NW) in DC’s West End. The menu will combine East Coast seafood—inspired by Lacoste’s mentor, Bob Kinkead—with a “touch of France,” a nod to her days studying and working at the famed La Varenne cooking school.
“Right now, we’re in the heavy-duty design phase,” says Lacoste, acknowledging that there are many stages to get through between now and her projected early-summer opening day. Lacoste has worked in the food industry since she was a kid, starting out as a clerk in a neighborhood deli. “I always talked to the purveyors, talked to the milkman,” she laughs. “All of the stuff that I do now as a chef, I’ve been doing since I was 12.”
Lacoste took a break from restaurant planning to share some of her food-related favorites, including guilty-pleasure cheeseburgers, her mom’s Thanksgiving feast, and hanging out with winemakers in Australia.
Favorite neighborhood restaurant: “I live in Glover Park, so I go to Town Hall a lot. I either have a cheeseburger or, if I’m dieting like I should be, I have roast chicken. The cheeseburger is my first choice. If I’m going to be bad, I’m going to enjoy it.”
Most memorable restaurant splurge: “It has to be Taillevent in Paris. When I was living there, I took on a job to make 5,000 cookies. I did it in my kitchen with the help of some friends from La Varenne. As a reward, we took ourselves to Taillevent. I couldn’t tell you anything that we ate—it was just an unforgettable experience.”
Favorite fast-food spot: “McDonald’s double cheeseburgers. It’s been a long time, but I would have it in a heartbeat.”
Favorite DC restaurant of the past: “21 Federal. I loved it. When I came back to the States from Paris in 1982, I got a job with Bob Kinkead. We opened 21 Federal first in Nantucket and later in Washington. I also miss all of the French restaurants that have come and gone: Jean-Louis, of course, and Le Pavillon, which I really loved. The other one was Le Lion d’Or, on 18th Street.”
Favorite foodie destination: “That’s really hard. Obviously, I love France. I loved living there and all of the trips back. I also love Majorca and all of Spain. And I really loved southeast Australia. I did a 17-day wine trip there in 2001, and it changed my life. On that trip, I realized how amazing it was to get to know all the winemakers. When I drink those wines now, I think of those people and being in their homes, knowing who grew those grapes. It was really the turning point for me, when I turned into a fresh-and-local advocate. I wanted to know who was growing the food I was eating.”
Inspirations for the menu at Ris: “I really want the freshness to count. I want the pristineness of Australia, some of that really clean and crisp influence. All of the ingredients there are very clean, the oysters are just delicious, the fish is just so fresh. A lot is American-influenced—New England, East Coast seafood. And a touch of France.”
Favorite place to shop for groceries: “Whole Foods in Glover Park is right across the street from my house. I go to the Arlington farmers market on Saturdays and Dupont on Sundays. Right now I love the winter squash, and I’m looking for carrots since they’re finally going to be really nice and sweet. And cauliflower—I love it, love it.”
Favorite cocktail: “Tanqueray martini, straight up with olive.”
Favorite breakfast: “I love scrambled eggs, baked beans, and toast.”
Favorite food from childhood: “My mother’s Thanksgiving dinner. She did this French-Canadian ground-pork stuffing that was just fantastic. She did all the classics: turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans . . . and she did turnips and carrots that I did not like. I cooked Thanksgiving dinner at 1789 for about 650 people for ten years. This year I’ll be home.”
Favorite TV food show: “I watch very little TV in general. Alton Brown I enjoy, and I really like Jamie Oliver. But I’m somewhat of a political junkie, so if I watch TV, I usually watch that. If I do happen to catch Iron Chef, I’ll watch it. I did try out for Iron Chef once—they came to me, and I did a tryout thing with Cesare [Lanfranconi of Spezie] and Morou [Outtara of Farrah Olivia]. Morou ended up winning. The stress of competing on the show—I would not put myself through that. This was just to make a dish for them. I did win the competition at DC Central Kitchen’s Capital Food Fight twice. I really didn’t want to do that either, but they begged me. I still work for DC Central Kitchen—I go there every week, and I love it.”