When I arrived to Hotel RL, I expected to meet Chef Ricky Webster in the lobby and sit down for a quick interview. However, Ricky had a different plan. He escorted me to a private dining room where he served me the most delicious sandwich I have had in ages. It was beautifully presented on butcher block, wrapped in parchment paper, and tied up with twine. This sandwich was filled with vegetables Ricky hand-picked from his home garden, including pea shoots, zucchini, and cucumber. He added an herb, avocado mash, broccoli sprouts and havarti cheese, garnished with fresh baby carrots and served with a side of fresh-pressed green juice. Ricky is known for going the extra mile to turn something good, into something great.

As we sat and we chatted about his journey, he showed me pictures of the elaborate cakes he has built and the customized cookie cutters in the shape of his face. He also gave tips and tricks, from baking the perfect cookie (use bakers ammonia to keep them from over “poofing”)  to using kitchen scraps as ingredients to create wonderful sauces (use carrot tops to make the best pesto).

Ricky Webster began his professional career in pastries, where he used his baking as an escape from life’s woes. He started at Ace Hotel as executive pastry chef, and he quickly moved his way up and became the executive sous chef. He was at that job before he relocated from Los Angeles to Spokane and began working as the Executive Chef at Hotel RL. I am so glad that Ricky and his partner made the move to our city. We are blessed to have their talents in our midst.

When he grew up in Northern California, Ricky always loved being in kitchen with both of his grandmothers and his mom. He comes from a line of women who were great cooks. You could say that being a chef is in his blood. Every birthday, his dad’s mother would bake him elaborate cakes with his creative direction throughout his childhood. He always looked forward to these cakes each year and at 11 years old, he asked his mom if he could take a cake decorating class to learn how to make them himself. His parents enrolled him in a three-part cake decorating class where the teacher noticed his natural talent and abilities. He had the passion, skills, and he absolutely loved it. Soon after, his local Michael’s store paid him $50 to sit outside the store and decorate a cake. People figured, if this young boy could do it, they could too! Little did they know, he was a cake decorating protege.

In his teenage years, he split his time between baking and performing. After high school, Ricky went to New York where he attended AMDA for musical theater: tap and ballet were his favorites. Within a week of starting school, he had a paid apprenticeship at French Bakery on  the Upper West Side. It always seemed as if the universe was telling him to go the cooking route but he was defiant and loved to dance and perform so he fought it for quite some time. After school, he moved back to Northern CA, became general manager for different restaurants where he learned skills in business and management. At 25, he decided to start his own cookie company called “Cookie Canvas”.  Imagine the Ben & Jerry’s of cookies. The idea was to custom paint cookies to be used as place cards or wedding favors. He sold his cookies at various farmers markets, he booked a couple event gigs, and really used this business to get his feet wet as a business owner. After that venture, he decided to give acting a shot and moved to LA at age 28. Within two weeks of being in LA, he landed an executive pastry chef position. Yet another example of him fighting the universe as it guided him to working in the food industry. Within a year he starred on Cupcake Wars for “Buttercelli Organic Bakeshop”, he also acted as an extra in “The Office”, “The Pursuit of Happiness”, and “RENT”. At this point, he was happy with his day-job but kept his foot in the door with his acting career.

He was then able to meet and work for Duff Goldman, from the hit Food Network show “Ace of Cakes”. Ricky was hired on for new concept cake shop by Goldman where they teach custom cake decorate cake classes. Duff and Ricky built and opened this shop together where Ricky was the Executive Pastry chef and General Manager. It didn’t take long for Ricky to realize he missed being in the trenches and having his hands in the dough and flower. He is a teacher at heart and this job gave him the opportunity to make connections and meet really cool people like Busy Phillips, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Victoria Beckham, and many more. It was during this time that he realized his passions and career had come full circle. His desire to become an actor and a chef had meshed together where he was able to do both. For someone with such an impressive resume, Ricky is incredibly humble and down to earth.

Why did you decide to become a chef?

Ricky grew up watching the start of the Food Network before it was “cool”. He was teaching himself how to cook from the young age of 10 years old. He always knew he wanted to somehow take care of people or remove people from their problems whether by acting on a stage or cooking them delicious food. He talks about the pleasure of bringing out a dish or a wedding cake or taking that first bite and watching as time stands still. The food that Ricky creates is very much a show; theatrical and whimsical. It is Ricky’s goal to make sure that your experience at Restaurant Hotel RL provides you and escape and brings you happiness, peace, and joy.

What is your favorite cooking show?

In the past he would have said “Ace of Cakes”. Now, it is “Mind of a Chef” on PBS. Moderated by Anthony Bourdain. It tells the story about what motivates a chef, what makes them tick.

How long have you been a chef?

10+ years.

Is there a chef you admire the most? Why?

Chef’s Table- First Episode, Season 1. Mossimo Bottura the chef from Italy, trying to save the parmesan rounds. He is opening pop-up shops and feeding the poor and needy across the world. He does this using scraps and food waste to feed and serve the underprivileged. Ricky moved here from LA because he wanted sustainability:  land, and a vegetable garden, a home. He likes being able to know exactly what is going into what he is eating. He loves food but wants to make sure it is good for him and tastes good. To him, it is about finding balance and living an improved quality of life.

What set of skills or characteristics do you have that you think set you apart?

Attention to detail through his pastries. Little techniques that he has learned working with chocolate or sugar and then being able to create from a base recipe and deviate and make it his own with substitutions. Then being able to format the recipe so a cook can easily recreate his methods. This provides consistency in his kitchen.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Outdoor activities like camping and cooking on an open fire. He is passionate about bringing people together over food.

Where do you like to eat around Spokane?

The Wandering Table. He says that The Wandering Table is not only progressive for spokane, but progressive for the world.

Do you have a signature dish?

Cookies. (I would highly recommend his WA Cookie Skillet from Hotel RL served warm with chocolate cherries and hazelnuts)

What ingredients do you like to work with?

Bright colors. Citrus, herbs, vinegar, chili peppers, etc. He always zests his pastries.

What can we expect from Hotel RL?

He wants to keep moving the restaurant forward. There are some key players in Spokane (Wild Sage, Wandering Table) who have set the bar and pioneered the food scene in Spokane. He admires their bravery and works to educate his guests and staff on different foods and unique ways to use foods in his cooking methods.

What is your favorite thing on the menu at your restaurant?

Roasted Root Hummus Appetizer. The vegetables will change seasonally and it is bright, lots of citrus, earthy from the beets.

Random/Fun Questions to get to know Ricky on a more personal level:

What’s your favorite ’90s jam?

“Quit Playing Games” – Backstreet Boys

You’re on death row, what would your last meal be?

Thai Food.

If you were on an island and could only bring three things, what would you bring?

  1. Cookbook
  2. Lego’s
  3. His Pug “Ponzu” (Fearless. She killed one of his chickens)

What is your favorite cereal?

Honey Nut Cheerios because they don’t get soggy quick.

For more on Ricky Webster, visit his blog: http://sweeterside.tumblr.com/

Keep eating, Spokane.