Ryan Lory is Executive Chef of the acclaimed Charlie Palmer Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan. Ryan’s story emphasizes the dedication needed to succeed in this industry. It also illustrates that overcoming hardship frequently leads to greater opportunities. Adversity breeds success – an important truth anyone going through a difficult time in life should remember.
You’re from New Jersey, when did you first get interested in cooking? I’m originally from Bergen County, New Jersey. It’s 15 minutes away from New York, City. When I was younger, I didn’t really have any interest in cooking. I was all about sports, playing video games, normal stuff. When I moved to Connecticut, I got heavily into playing baseball. I got recruited to play at West Virginia University. I majored in business management and minored in entrepreneurship. My goal was to eventually open my own restaurant. At that point, I did not want to be in the kitchen. I didn’t have any idea how to cook. But, ever since I was a young kid, I always wanted to have a restaurant. Everyone in the movies that had restaurants were the badass or cool people. And, restaurants were the places where people gathered to have a good time. I wanted to be the person to give people that kind of experience.
When I moved down to the Jersey Shore, to Ocean Township, New Jersey, I started working for my uncle. He has his own restaurant and bar in Central New Jersey. I started as a bus boy and dishwasher but still had no real interest in the kitchen. I worked my way up to bar manager and bartender. It was good for me because I was having fun in college during the year and then during the summer I worked at a bar. I had a lot of fun. But that entire time—I still wanted to have that restaurant.
After college, you ended up in Newport Beach and attended the Art Institute of Southern California. That was to study culinary arts? Yes, to give you a little background about myself, I’m actually 100% sober. I’ve been sober for almost five years now. I had just graduated from West Virginia. I did pretty well. I don’t know how I did well! For the two years that I stopped playing baseball I was partying all the time. I was just going to college and I wound up getting addicted to pain killers and OxyCotin. My addiction started the first year of school. I was heavily involved with OxyCotin. After I graduated from college, I couldn’t kick my habit. It wasn’t just partying anymore and it was getting worse and worse. I finally surrendered and told my parents that I needed help. When it was time for me to go somewhere, they sent me out to Newport Beach, California, where I went to rehab. After 30 days out there I kind of had this moment where I realized that I had this degree and wanted to open this restaurant but I always loved food. I thought: “why don’t I go to culinary school and really get both sides.” So I decided to go to culinary school at the Art Institute of Southern California.
So you finished school, and then you came back to New Jersey and opened Bistro Rylo. After getting sober I was out in California for two-and-a-half years working at a country club. Once again I started as a dishwasher. After what I’d been through I felt like I needed to start at the bottom and work my way up. My uncle had always told me that that’s the only way that you can do this. To own your own business you need to know all aspects. I thought that was very important. So I started working at the country club in the dish pit with a degree. But that was okay because that’s where I wanted to start. I worked in the dish pit for four months then they took me out of there and got me involved in the food because they knew I had that kind of passion. I dedicated 16 hours a day every day to the kitchen. I was in Culinary school for half the day then I worked the other 10 hours. Being in the kitchen for that amount of time you just start soaking things up like a sponge. I quickly went from the dish pit to prep cook to sauté cook to lead cook – then I was running the line. At that point, I asked the chef if he thought it was a good idea for me to go back and open my restaurant. He said “no” and that I was still too young and had open my eyes to the industry. But I was so gung-ho and thought I was ready to go. That’s when I went back home. A couple of months later, after doing a lot of business planning, finding a location and what not, I opened up a restaurant. It lasted for four months.
What transpired in those four months with Bistro Rylo? After four months of rushing, not knowing how to open up a restaurant, and getting a crew together—we opened. The location was awful. I was a young kid and I thought it didn’t matter. I thought I was a great cook and I could do this ridiculous thing. So we rushed it and opened up before we were really ready. It was serious work. I had a lot of cooks that didn’t know how to do simple things in the kitchen. It was very tough the first couple of months. But we did pretty well for what we were. After the first four months from the opening, we wound up going from seven cooks to just me, my sous chef, and a dishwasher. It was awful. The restaurant wasn’t getting the volume it needed to survive. Although, we did get great reviews and I did some nice food since I was working every single day. We just didn’t get the volume that we needed and I don’t think the people in that area appreciated the kind of food that was on the menu. So after a tough eleven months of work my family and I decided that it was time to close it down so that I could progress and better myself and my career.
Now you’re the Executive Sous Chef here at Charlie Palmer Steakhouse. What was the timeline from closing Rylo to getting here? Two weeks after we closed I moved into New York City with my girlfriend at the time – who is now my fiancé. I moved in and started staging around town at many different restaurants. I ended up coming here and doing a tasting. The way that I got here was that my fish purveyor knew Matt, who was the previous Executive Chef here. He also had a restaurant in New Jersey that was literally five minutes away from mine, but we never knew each other. My purveyor put us in contact, and Matt told me to come in for an interview. I came in and did a tasting and an interview and I just had a good feeling about the place. I met with Charlie and it really felt right. At that point, I was offered a position here and I accepted it immediately.
How long have you been here now? It’s been almost a year-and-a-half.
You just filmed an episode of Chopped that will have aired by the time that this comes out. What was that experience like? Yeah, I think it was last year—my girlfriend said: “why don’t you try Chopped?” I told her I would do it. She filled out the application for me because I didn’t want to be bothered with it. Thank you, Carly. So, she filled it out and sent over the application with pictures of my food. A couple of months later I was accepted onto the show and they wanted me to come in for an interview. It was an amazing experience. The show is real. You open up those baskets, and there’s no messing around or bullshitting. It was very hard.
What was the experience like of doing that in the studio verse doing it in the actual kitchen? It was not even close. I felt like I was on another planet.
How did you get involved with True Cooks? When I opened the restaurant in New Jersey, I remember getting a few likes from them on some of the food that I was doing. I started following them on Instagram and realized I just like what it does. It’s a place where young kids and young adults are getting into the industry and finding this cool and hip thing about it. It’s really going to help bring up some great cooks by allowing them to network and create opportunities for themselves. I feel like we’re really going to see an increase due to social media and all of that stuff as far as people getting interested in cooking and really loving what they do. I think that’s going to be great for the future. TrueCooks is something that helps this industry.
What advice would you give to young chefs that want to make it in this industry? If you don’t love it, don’t even try it. Honestly, you have to love this. It’s not easy, it’s hard work each and every day. You’re on your feet for 12, 14 – 16 hours a day. It’s hot, and it’s hard physical labor. It’s also pressure like no other. If you don’t love this, you’re not going to last. If you want to be something special in this industry, you really have to love it.
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