The Meet & Greet: Meet Chef Ryan Poli of ‘Rocco’s Dinner Party’

If you’ve been catching Rocco’s Dinner Party lately, you must be as hooked as we are.

On Bravo’s newest reality competition series, three highly skilled chefs take their shot at crafting the perfect evening for celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito and his handpicked celebrity guests. Each week, three new chefs are given one chance to  impress DiSpirito by cooking their signature dish. The two strongest advance to the next round, where they are challenged to develop a full menu in competing dinner parties.

So who’s one of the lucky competitors this week? None other than Chef Ryan Poli!

After being named “Rising Star Chef” and “Chef to Watch” in 2005, Chef Poli has become a must-watch chef around the Chicago area. With a new restaurant that’s about to open and an appearance on Rocco’s Dinner Party, Chef Poli gave Celebuzz the scoop on what we can expect to see from him.

How did you first become a chef? Is it something that you always wanted to do?

I was in high school and I got a job working at a restaurant in my neighborhood. The first day I walked into the kitchen, it was so different than the 9-to-5 that’s pumped into you during high school. It was so different than what everyone else was doing. While everyone was graduating and going to college, I was working in the kitchen. There was a hunger and a passion for what I was doing. I was exposed to so many different things that it built a desire to want to be a chef and work hard and own my own restaurant.

You got started pretty early.

Yes. I was fortunate enough. I wake up everyday and feel so lucky that I found something that I love to do at such an early age. A lot of people take a long time to find what they really want to do in life and I got lucky.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?

I don’t know. I played bass guitar and was really into music when I was in high school. I played a lot of sports too. It’s a hard question to answer. I really don’t know where my life would have taken me if I hadn’t found cooking. That’s why I’m fortunate enough to be doing what I’m doing.

What type of food do you specialize in?

We’re opening a new restaurant called Tavernita in Chicago and in South Beach in Miami. It’s going to be Spanish-inspired cuisine with a heavy Latin American influence. We’re trying different recipes right now.

Did you study this type of food?

Yes. My background is in classic French. I worked at the French Laundry restaurant in California with Chef Thomas Keller. He taught me about the techniques and caring for ingredients. I then lived in Spain for two years, and that’s where I fell in love with Spanish food and culture. When I came back to Chicago, I decided I wanted to open up a restaurant. Now I’m doing it and we’re opening it in September.

What is the theme for your episode of Rocco’s Dinner Party?

It’s going to be a summer theme with a sort of healthy twist to it.

What did you use as your signature dish?

The signature dish that I prepared was fish tacos. I used mango and papaya relish with tortilla infusion.

Check out a sneak peak below:

Each week we’ll get to see celebrity guests attending the dinner party. What celebrity guests showed up during your dinner?

One of the ones that showed up was Jeffrey Ross. It was an honor to cook for him because I’m such a huge fan of his. Meeting him and cooking for him was great.

Did you know beforehand that he’d come or were you told on the spot?

I had no idea. He just showed up with Rocco in the kitchen. I started thinking of him doing the roasts for other people and got nervous that he’d roast my food!

When you’re not the one cooking, where do you like to eat? What’s your favorite type of food?

I do a lot of cooking at home with my girlfriend. She has me on a health kick. When we go to restaurants, I like simple things. I like more casual places. I love tasting a lot of things. When I do research, I like tasting different flavors to get inspired.

What’s the one main dish or side dish that you can’t live without?

Anything with potato. I love potatos. In Spain, there’s a dish with fried potato, fried egg and chorizo. It’s delicious. It’s simple but has great ingredients.

Speaking of simple dishes, if someone is having a last minute dinner party, simple yet delicious recipes would you advise them to cook?

Since it’s summertime, go to the local farmer’s market and get fresh vegetable. Some hummus dip would be great as well. The important thing is to have less time in the kitchen and more time with your guests. Anything that can be prepared beforehand is great.

Rocco’s Dinner Party airs on Wednesday nights on Bravo. You can catch Chef Ryan Poli’s appearance TONIGHT, July 6!

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