The man behind the meals: TMC’s new Executive Chef Jason Ricciardelli

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Jason Ricciardelli
TMC Executive Chef

“In the Italian culture, food is a source of passion, and represents love, fun and happy times.  That’s what food should be – whether you’re making food for two people or 2,000 people,” said TMC Executive Chef Jason Ricciardelli.

He carries this philosophy with him into every kitchen – whether he’s at home, or at work.

Ricciardelli is even surprised looking back at the path that brought him to TMC.  The Queens, New York native went to Boston University to become a mechanical engineer.  “I took an engineering class three times, and failed it twice,” he said.  “The third time I’m convinced my professor gave me a ‘D’ simply because he felt bad for me.  I can’t change the oil in my car and my wife doesn’t trust me enough to change a tire,” he laughed.

The self-proclaimed “foodie” has an extensive background in the food and beverage industry.  Ricciardelli spent about 15 years in Boston doing everything from driving a taxi to managing a fine wine bar.  He eventually got a business degree from the University of Massachusetts, but food has always been where his heart is.  “I’m not classically trained.  I didn’t go to a culinary institute, but I paid my dues and learned a lot from working at night in a hotel with 24-hour room service.  If there are only two cooks, and one of them calls in sick, guess what?  That night manager had better put on a chef coat and hat and get ready to rock.  People are going to want food, and you’d better figure out how to handle yourself in the kitchen.  I learned a lot there.”

His job with Hilton Hotels brought him to Arizona in 2004 where he managed four Italian restaurants in the Phoenix area.  He was hired as a Food Services Supervisor at TMC in April 2012.  It didn’t take long for Ricciardelli to be promoted to the Catering Supervisor.  “I was very hands on.  I would make between 40 and 60 percent of all meals.  People had an opportunity to taste some of what I cooked,” he explained.  When there was talk about creating an Executive Chef position, Ricciardelli’s reputation in the kitchen and his managerial experience made the decision an easy one for upper management.

We spent a few minutes with the man who cooks dinner every night for his wife of 10 years, loves to travel, and eats the local food whenever possible.  “We went to Barbados, and I had curried goat the second I landed!”  No, he’s not kidding.  Read on to discover what else he has planned for TMC Food Services.

What food gets you most excited to cook? 

I love cooking Italian dishes with different sauces.  It’s what I’m comfortable cooking and it’s easy to make big quantities of it.  If you can make pasta for eight, you can make it for 80.  Or 180.  You’ll start to see more Italian and Mediterranean style items on the menu because that’s what I’m familiar with, and that’s what I know I can do well.  I’m a big believer in managing your strengths.  If you’re good at cooking ‘x,’ then why are you cooking ‘y?’

What is your least favorite thing to cook?

I’m not a very good baker.  I enjoy eating baked goods, but I’m not very good at making them.  We have a lot of corn bread and polenta on our menu now.  Those choices are going to go away because I’m not going to create a menu I can’t cook well.

What changes can we expect from Food Services with you as the new Executive Chef?

My goal going forward is to simplify the menu and add freshness.  By the middle of the summer, we will have a completely new menu in place.  We’ll roll it out in the cafeteria first before implementing the changes in other parts of the hospital.  For patients with dietary restrictions, we’re also exploring the possibility of changing portion sizes instead of changing the quality of the food.  Can we give patients the same flavor profile, while still fulfilling their nutritional needs with a smaller portion rather than drastically change the recipe and taste of a particular dish?  We’re working with our Registered Dietitians on this.

How would you describe your leadership style?

We have a bunch of fantastic people working in the kitchen.  They work hard every single day and I know that deep down inside they are proud about what they do.  I’m a big believer that if they didn’t love it, they wouldn’t do it.  It’s not an easy job.  It’s hot in the kitchen.  You get sweaty.  It’s not a glamorous position and to be honest with you it’s pretty thankless.  I want them to take pride in what they cook, and hold themselves accountable.  One of the things I’m trying to instill in my workers is ‘if you make it, you own it.’  I encourage them to taste the food they’re making.  We’re not just slopping some food on a tray to say that we got it done quickly.

What do you love most about TMC?

Without a doubt – the people.  The folks here are the easiest and most flexible people I’ve ever worked with.  They made me comfortable my first week here.  As a food production team, we’ve been successful, and we will continue going forward.  This job is about having fun, enjoying the camaraderie, and enjoying the fact that you’re having something good to eat.  People should be happy when they’re eating.  That’s what food service should be.  Don’t just eat to live, but live to eat.

Comments

  1. Elizabeth Mikesell says:

    Hi,
    My name is Elizabeth Mikesell. I am a chef instructor at Pima Community College. I have a student interested in doing his internship at TMC. It can be paid or unpaid. Please let me know if that is of interest to you. Thanks

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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