• Behind the Curtain With Rita Dever

     
    POSTED April 15, 2020
     

You may not have seen her name among Chicago’s James Beard award nominees or caught in the buzz of another trendy eatery opening, but the ripples of Rita Dever’s culinary creations have made an impact far and wide. After cooking around the world, the Pacific Northwest native put down roots as Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ (LEYE) associate partner and corporate chef where she collaborates in the company’s test kitchen to innovate new dishes for all LEYE restaurants.

What set you on your career path?
I had always loved to cook, but had no intention of becoming a chef. I worked for a telephone company for 10 years and when Ma Bell became Baby Bells it allowed me to cash out and make a career U-turn, heading off to culinary school in Paris. Turns out the breaking up of a phone monopoly changed the trajectory of my life.

You’ve traveled quite a bit as a chef, opening restaurants in Los Angeles, Maui, New York and Seattle with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. How have those experiences influenced your cooking?
The [Four Seasons] have high standards for quality, which was reflected in their ingre- dients. Because I was crisscrossing the country, I was influenced by many populations—Hispanic, Asian, European cuisines, etc.—which came in handy when I began working with Lettuce where all of these populations are reflected in our concepts and menus.

How did you land in Chicago?
I’d worked with Four Seasons chef Susan Weaver, who later came to work with Lettuce and referred me when (founding partner) Rich Melman was looking for a corporate test kitchen chef. He flew me out from Seattle to do a tasting and things just clicked! I put the Space Needle in my rearview mirror and never looked backed.

What does your role entail? What do you enjoy most about your work?
In the Corporate Kitchen, we work to create  the partners’ visions, new concepts and support LEYE restaurants with recipe development. We do daily tastings for Rich and send out those that were approved. Some are strikes, some are home runs, but they all generate conversation and often new ideas. We also have time to develop, test and present our own ideas. You never know what will become a concept, but I’m lucky to work with so many types of cuisine and pastry that I’m never bored. You get both the joy and challenge of creating new dishes every day which, keeps things inter- esting. And keeping up with Rich is quite impossible, but it is fun to try!

Where do you find inspiration for new dishes?
Inspiration comes first and foremost from Rich, then magazines, cookbooks, competitive dining, other chefs and the internet. Trends are very important to restaurants— you just like to start them or be at the forefront, never at the end. Often our guests are also telling us what interests them. We are still focusing on healthy trends and realizing how strong vegan and vegetarianism has picked up, as well as alternative milk.

Ken Hayward has spent nearly his entire career serving at one hotel. But when you start your career at one of the most iconic and historic hotels in Michigan— even the nation—it’s hard to see yourself anywhere else. Hayward, executive vice president and managing director of Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, was recently named Hotelier of the Year by Historic Hotels of America. This honor comes decades after Hayward was given an unexpected opportunity.

 

A lifelon New Yorker, Emily Schmalholz was a TV producer at VH1 before moving into the events industry and landing at Westchester’s The Capitol Theatre. As director of special events at the historic space and its bar, Garcia’s, she says creating events and working in television have lots in common. “The ultimate goal for both is to tell a great story and create memorable moments.” Schmalholz, a self-described “event therapist,” had more to say about her work.

What’s the biggest difference between producing for television and producing events?

 

Texas is bursting with history.  Ever  wonder how the authenticity and legacy of those landmarks are maintained and upheld for everyone to enjoy? It’s thanks to individuals like Pamela Jary Rosser, Alamo conservator. A ninth generation Texan, Rosser was born in San Antonio and has a degree in fine arts and art history. She studied conservation in Italy with a team that worked on the Sistine Chapel, as well as Mission Concepcion and Mission San Jose. Rosser was kind enough to share her passion for history with us.