Canadian Chef Profiles: Steve Rydtschenko, Test Kitchen, Burlington ON

by Krlmagi

Chef Steve Rydtschenko combines his culinary creativity with unique ingredients while embracing relentless improvement and modernization at Test Kitchen in Burlington.

Although Chef Steve Rydtschenko started out washing dishes to make money, he quickly became attracted to the restaurant lifestyle. He made it his mission to go out and gain the best culinary experiences at the best restaurants that he could find. After doing his apprenticeship, Rydtschenko decided that he needed to move to Toronto in order to get into the kitchen at Scaramouche under Chef Keith Froggatt.

Cocoa and espresso rubbed venison carpaccio, shaved artichokes, radish, frisee, fennel, spiced tuile, truffle Cognac green peppercorn aioli.
Photo supplied by Steve Rydtschenko
Photo supplied by Steve Rydtschenko

Working with Chef Froggatt was influential for Rydtschenko. He was able to develop his culinary skills and gain knowledge while he was working in Froggatt’s kitchen. Another influential experience for him was working under Chef J.P. Challet of Ici Bistro. Rydtschenko says, “He’s a fantastic chef and I really enjoyed the time that I spent with him. I still keep in touch with him and he was a key factor in the development of my drive and passion as a chef.”

Traveling around the world to cook also helped shape Rydtschenko as a chef. He did stages in Montréal, Chicago and San Franciso before moving to Europe to cook for six months. The experience of seeing how European restaurant kitchens worked was a source of inspiration and the chance to gain a different sort of experience from cooking in North America.

The development of the culinary industry over Rydtschenko’s 24 years of experience has driven him to continue improving himself and his restaurants. He’s interested in using technology, so Test Kitchen’s menus are on iPads and he’s considering putting a GoPro camera in the kitchen to give people a chef’s eye view of what’s going on.

Rydtschenko focuses on creating unique dishes that are relatively easy to execute with modest prep levels and reasonable food costs. While retaining his creativity, he wants to create value for his guests. Seasonality is also important for Rydtschenko. He explains, “During the summer we try to stay lighter on a lot of the fare. In the winter time, we do braises like beef short ribs and pulled pork. When it’s minus twenty that’s going to warm you up!”

Radish and crab roll, carrot ginger gelee, lump fish roe, shaved vegetables.
Photo supplied by Steve Rydtschenko
Photo supplied by Steve Rydtschenko

The approach that Test Kitchen takes to food has drawn the interest of cooks according to Rydtschenko. They’re drawn by the constantly rotating menu and the experimentation with smoke guns, sous vide techniques and using Himalayan salt blocks as well as an exploration of curing, fermentation and charcuterie.

Sourcing unique products is important for the chef. While he works with large suppliers, he has a roster of smaller producers who offer him a wide range of options. For example, “We have a great supplier who has a greenhouse and supplies us with a lot of the microgreens and edible flowers as well as the spring items like ramps and fiddleheads. We have a mushroom forager who brings in a lot of interesting stuff from the west coast.”

Rydtschenko adds, “There’s a farmer around where I live that raises Muscovy ducks. I took most of his ducks because I want to support individuals who are out there on a small scale, trying to do the right thing.”

Consistent supply is important for Rydtschenko as well. The ten dollar menu has many choices on it, but the regular dinner and lunch menus are more limited. There are fifteen items on the dinner menu, so Rydtschenko has to ensure that he has the product that he needs because he can’t rely on a large menu to bail him out.

Apple cider brined pork chop, apple onion ring, toasted pistachio and spiced honey glaze, variation of cauliflower.
Photo supplied by Steve Rydtschenko
Photo supplied by Steve Rydtschenko

Constant learning is a trait that Rydtschenko tries to embody. He’s still learning from all of the cooks around him and challenging himself to keep progressing. He says, “I want to keep the team going and continue to open new restaurants so we have room for these up and coming chefs to have an opportunity to express themselves.”

The chef also believes in continuing to hone his skills and remain competitive with chefs who are operating out of bigger centres in order to create a reputation for his food, irrespective of where his restaurants are based.

A strong knowledge of product and how to cook it, solid basic culinary skills and a culinary education are all important in the people Rydtschenko hires. The culinary education can either be formal or gained through experience. He continues, “You should be able to come into a restaurant with a good skill set, an open mind and openness to direction, development and coaching. There can be five or six ways of doing anything but as long as you’re able to follow the way we want you to do it here, add that to your repertoire and move on, that’s good.”

Motivation for Rydtschenko comes from what he hopes to achieve in the future. He wants to take on more of an executive role in overseeing a handful of restaurants where he can cook on occasion, see how the mise en place is working and help the staff out. He adds, “I want to have time to put really good menu packages together and do some off site events like catering and weddings. I want to be able to get away from the line where I do two services every day to have an R+D day, go to the markets and go to visit farmers so I can build relationships and find some unique products.”

This interview with Steve Rydtschenko was conducted via telephone and recorded on Sept. 15, 2015

Updated: 09/22/2015, Krlmagi
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