For Iron Chef aficionados, Ron Siegel’s claim to fame is as the first and only American to win in Kitchen Stadium on the original Japanese series. Luckily for Bay Area foodies, he didn’t stop there. And now, after a long and storied career in fine dining at places like Masa’s, Charles Nob Hill, the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton and most recently at Michael Mina, the Michelin-starred chef has moved from the city to the country. Siegel, a longtime Marin resident, is now on board as chef and partner at Rancho Nicasio.
1. What’s it like going from Michael Mina to Rancho Nicasio? I enjoy the smaller staffing model. I had an army at Mina; we had 21 cooks altogether. But I needed them all. Now I have two people, so we’re a team of three, and I really like it. I might pull in a sous chef I used to work with now and then, but I prefer it small. Everybody gets to do everything. It’s more impactful. I’m over the idea of having a kitchen where everyone has one job and works on one dish. I wanted to do something more accessible. My friends don’t necessarily want to spend $600 for dinner for two. It’s so much more relaxed; I use the same techniques and make something really good, much like I did before, but it’s more accessible.
2. Do people still remember your Iron Chef win? Not nearly as much as they once did. People used to come by Michael Mina daily, so much so that we used to joke that we should get a cardboard cutout so people could take photos with it instead of me. Some people still do remember it even though it was a long time ago.
3. How did going to Japan change you? Going to Japan changed a lot about the way I cook. I went back after Iron Chef and did a lot of cooking and appearances in Japan and will forever cherish those memories. Back then I was more into French technique and when I went there I learned and was exposed to new things. I saw chefs who were 50 years old still working in their craft. Now I’m getting older and I’m still working the line and enjoying what we do.
4. Did you consider more TV after Iron Chef? No, but the guys from MythBusters had me on their show to see if we could blow up meat to tenderize it. In theory it should work because you are breaking up the connective tissues. I brought my kids. They put some meat into a metal drum and blew up some dynamite around it. The results were inconclusive, but my kids really liked it and the guys from MythBusters were super nice.
5. How do you feel about the term celebrity chef? I think it’s totally overused. I don’t give it much thought.
6. Is sous vide played out or still a great technique? I still use it a little but not as much as I once did. I still like it. I pickle radishes, compress things, cook pork belly.
7. When did you realize being a chef was a career option? I started working in the restaurant industry as a teenager. I loved everything about it: the intensity, the camaraderie, the crazy hours. In my 20s, I realized that cooking was something I could do for a living. I picked it up pretty quickly and found that I really enjoyed it.
8. Is there a new dish on the menu you are proudest of? I’m pretty happy with the whole thing; I’m starting from scratch. I love the trout, but even the salads are great. A lady from right up the street grows the greens for us. In a perfect world we’d love to just work with our neighbors. We’re making our own butter from local organic cream. It’s a nice feeling.
9. Where do you go out to eat in Marin with your kids? I really enjoy Fish in Sausalito. I love their concept. I like the food there, and my kids like it too.
10. Where are your favorite places to shop in Marin and favorite purveyors? I shop the Marin farmers’ market at the Civic Center on Thursdays. There’s so many great purveyors — Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Marin Roots Farm, Stemple Creek Ranch, Paradise Valley Ranch, they all do a spectacular job. Nicasio Valley Cheese Company is right next door to us. All the cheese in Marin is great.
12. What did you do on your last day off? My wife and I went to Hog Island Oyster Company and went to breakfast in Point Reyes.