Ronnie’s passion for cooking began at the tender age of eight. Since then his culinary dream became a reality after training at Le Cordon Bleu London and going on to work in the kitchens of a variety of prestigious hotels such as The Omni Mandalay in Irving, Texas and The Ritz Carlton in Rancho Mirage, California.
Today Ronnie is considered to be one of the best chefs in Texas and is the owner of four highly acclaimed restaurants, including Killen’s Steak House and the recently opened, Killen’s Burgers. Whilst visiting London, Ronnie popped in for a catch up and to tell us how his time at Le Cordon Bleu London has helped to shape his successful career.
What made you want to be a chef?
My Grandmother loved to cook, and I loved seeing the passion she had for cooking. I got so much enjoyment out of that, but at the same time if you didn’t cook, you had to wash up so cooking made the most sense! Above all though, I love making people happy with my food.
Why did you choose to enroll at Le Cordon Bleu?
If I’m going to go to a cookery school, I want to go to the best one that I can go to. I knew that Julia Child went here and I used to watch her as a little kid. I looked into it, and thought about studying at a US culinary school, but wondered would this mean as much? I would love to do it all over again.
What did you enjoy most about training in London?
Seeing a different side of food. Being an international student, going to the fish market, and hearing about the experiences that the other chefs had, it taught me a lot. Also just being in London, the everyday, the history of the buildings, the history of the restaurants – like the Savoy where Escoffier worked. To be around all of that and to almost relive what they were doing was very inspiring.
What was your first job after graduating?
Most people don’t start out with much culinary experience after they graduate, but I left and went straight into a Chef de Cuisine position at the Hyatt Regency in Austin, Texas – I was cooking for the Bushes, the President! A diploma from Le Cordon Bleu carries a lot of weight. People wouldn’t normally be a Chef de Cuisine right after graduating – Le Cordon Bleu is definitely internationally recognised as the best.
Le Cordon Bleu is definitely internationally recognised as the best.
Has it always been your dream to open your own restaurants?
I had the idea that I would open a restaurant because I loved to cook and make people happy with my food. After I opened my first restaurant it took me eight years before I opened my second. The most important thing for me was to make sure that every restaurant we opened had the attention to detail.
What has been your proudest accomplishment to date?
I have so many in terms of what we’ve done, and what we’ve accomplished. If I had to pick one, it would be the fact that I am currently restauranteur of the year for Houston, which I’m passing over this Sunday. This was a very big moment for me as I don’t see myself as a restaurateur, I’m a chef, but two of our restaurants are in the top 10 in the Houston area and our BBQ grill is ranked second in the USA. I was up against Tony Vallone, one of the men that I most admired once I knew more about restaurants. I thought if I’m going up against him in a contest for an award then there’s no way I’m going to win!
What was the most valuable thing that you learnt at Le Cordon Bleu London?
The most important thing that I learnt was to respect the food. Don’t disgrace the animal that gave its life for you to mess it up! Respect the products and the produce, think about the journey of how that produce, that piece of meat, came to be on the plate. I tell my cooks all the time, we buy the best ingredients we can get, so don’t mess them up. Take care of it and let it sing! I think that type of thinking is very important, because if you have good produce, let it speak for itself – and don’t overcook it!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t give up! It takes a while and it’s not going to happen overnight, but if you really truly love what you’re doing; because it is all about doing what you love to do, if you truly love cooking, stick with it. It may take time, but it is well worth the end result. There’s a lot of people who do it because they think it’s going to be easy, but it is definitely not. Just think about all the people that you will be making happy with your food.
What are the top 3 qualities needed to be a successful chef?
Dedication, passion, and drive. You have to continue to want to be better every day.
How valuable do you think culinary training is to a chef’s career?
I think I would be in the same situation as I am now, but it would have taken a lot longer! I could cook before I came to Le Cordon Bleu London, but before I arrived I could only paint with eight colours, but the school gave me one-hundred! It taught me to be more creative, to understand the principles and I love wine now, where before I never used to. I also learnt a lot more about cheese and more than just American cheese!