Chefs Across North America: Derek Ronspies, Seattle WA

by Krlmagi

Chef Derek Ronspies creates food that he describes as "nose-to-tail, farm-to-table" at Le Petit Cochon in Seattle WA

Chef Derek Ronspies’ career started out as a twenty-something when he was unsure of the direction he might take in life. His brother suggested that he work at a large chain restaurant with him so Ronspies started off as a dishwasher there. He worked his way up the line and discovered that he had a talent for cooking. He adds, "Looking back, I actually had a pretty great work ethic despite all the partying we were doing!”

Ronspies' next major breakthrough came while he was trying to get a job in graphic design and waiting tables to make money. It was a job that he hated so he accepted a pay cut in order to cook again. As soon as he returned to the kitchen, he realized it was what he had to do, so he enrolled in the Florida Culinary Institute a month after he started cooking again.

Chef Derek Ronspies
Chef Derek Ronspies

Ronspies mentions three chefs who were particularly influential to him as a young chef: Sean McDonald, Zach Bell and Dustin Ronspies.


Sean McDonald was Ronspies’ chef at Suite 160 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He credits McDonald with opening his eyes to the potential of food. Suite 160 was his first professional kitchen experience and he was impressed by McDonald's preparations and plating. It helped him to realize that he was in the right place.


 Ronspies says that Chef Zach Bell taught him all about vegetables and how to cook them well. It was his experience with Bell that Ronspies credits for setting his menus apart. He points out, "I love my meats but cooking vegetables properly and uniquely is what I really enjoy doing.”


The third chef that Ronspies mentions is his brother Dustin Ronspies who is the chef/owner of Art of the Table in Seattle. He calls him his mentor, his brother and someone who would do anything for him. He says, "He’s taught me so much about cooking, eating, life and business.”

Ronspies is trying to have fun with his current approach to cooking. He wants people to be open-minded and unafraid of food. The chef likes to create dishes that play on childhood favourites like hot dogs or mac and cheese while elevating them. For example, he'd create hot dogs with seared house mortadella or interpret mac and cheese using ricotta cavatelli, a Dinah’s camembert cheese sauce and broccoli rabe with a pine nut or mustard vinaigrette and a jam.

He adds, “I like to put a lot of ingredients on the plate but its certainly not a mishmash. Every item has a purpose from sweet to salty to sour to crunchy to soft.  We go for a great mixture of textures and flavors.”

Looking back at old trends also creates culinary inspiration for Ronspies. An example of this is his chicken slider with bayonnaise (Old Bay mayonnaise), fermented jalapeño and red cabbage slaw that he calls "totally killer."

"Phat Ass" pork chop: beets, dill crema, pickled celery, kumquats, cucumber vinaigrette, crunchy rye berries
"Phat Ass" pork chop: beets, dill crema, pickled celery, kumquats, cucumber vinaigrette, crunchy rye berries
Brisket, short rib & bone marrow burger, foie gras stuffing, plum jam, truffle aioli, arugula pistou,pickled red onion
Brisket, short rib & bone marrow burger, foie gras stuffing, plum jam, truffle aioli, arugula pistou,pickled red onion

Frequent menu changes are the result of Ronspies’ good relationships with local suppliers. Their ingredients are the basis of the chef's creative process. After he picks his ingredients up, he puts on some music in his apartment and starts to experiment with them. Often Ronspies will write down a central ingredient and think of what might complement it. He'll decide what style of dish he wants to create and incorporates the flavours he needs to make that dish work. He says, "I usually like to have at least one ‘fun’ ingredient in each dish, something that makes you want to try it.”


Leadership, humility, creativity and hospitality are all part of the mosaic of traits that Ronspies hopes to embody as a chef. In terms of leadership, he won’t ask anyone to do something that he wouldn’t also do. He is behind the line every day, he works nights alone sometimes and he will help out at the front of the house if necessary. Ronspies admits to sometimes getting upset when things go wrong but adds, “Being a leader is a skill I have but also something that I’m always working on."


Humility is something that Le Cochon gives to Ronspies every day. The restaurant's success has surprised the modest chef who insists that all he's trying to do is put out the best food he can. He says, "We hope a few people will like it, and they do! We have amazing guests who keep coming back over and over.”


The chef enjoys a wide variety of creative pursuits including drawing, painting and music. For him cooking is the ultimate art form because it engages all of the senses and allows for wide-ranging creativity.

Ronspies wants to create a hospitable space where people can relax and enjoy each others' company while eating and drinking well. He says, “I love when the restaurant is cranking and it is all just loud voices and laughter maybe even a little Wu Tang jamming in the background.”

Strawberry salad, house cured pancetta, almond butter, goat cheese, grilled fennel vinaigrette
Strawberry salad, house cured pancetta, almond butter, goat cheese, grilled fennel vinaigrette

Work ethic, a positive attitude and passion are the traits that Ronspies looks for in his kitchen team. The restaurant only has two other people besides him in the kitchen so work ethic is crucial. The team is at the restaurant more than they're at home so there's an expectation of hard work but the chef says it is ably fulfilled.


The second important trait for people cooking with Ronspies is a positive attitude. He says “When I get grumpy they can cheer me up!”


Passion is a crucial trait for anyone who cooks professionally according to Ronspies. The pay is low, the work is hard and there's a definite lack of free time. There has to be a passion for the lifestyle and the job in order to succeed as a chef.

Inspiration can be a scarce commodity in a chef’s busy lifestyle, but Ronspies takes it from people, cultures, seasons and what’s fresh around him.  He says, “If I’ve enjoyed something recently, I’ll put my own spin on it and throw it on the menu. I try to exercise a few times a week as well as go out to new restaurants and see what’s happening—these things keep me motivated and energetic.” 

Updated: 07/04/2015, Krlmagi
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Mira on 06/30/2015

I like his idea of having a fun ingredient in each dish!:)

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