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Chef Q&A: The Oakroom’s Patrick Roney

Patrick Roney spent 10 years working as a private chef on yachts. He moved to Louisville two and a half years ago with one goal in mind – to work at the Oakroom, Louisville’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant. But even Roney thought it would take more than a few months to land at the restaurant in the Seelbach Hilton Louisville.

“My wife’s family is from the area and we’ve eaten our way through most of the restaurants in Louisville,” Roney explains. “I always admired the Oakroom. I worked at Avalon for about four months when I heard that the Oakroom needed a Chef De Cuisine. Even I am amazed at how quickly it happened.”

Roney talked to Food & Dining only days after the Oakroom was recertified. Each year AAA reviews nearly 30,000 restaurants, but just 0.2 percent make the Five Diamond list. Roney was understandably happy that the Oakroom made the cut again.

Three Little Berkshire Pigs
Three Little Berkshire Pigs

Age: 43
Current Restaurant: The Oakroom (Seelbach Hilton Louisville)
Previous Restaurants: Avalon, also worked as a private chef
Neighborhood (current): Highlands; a native of Maryland
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Significant Other: Heather, a wedding coordinator
Kids: Hazel, 5 months
Favorite Hobbies: Dining out, water sports
Favorite Cookbook: “Cooking with the Seasons,” Jean-Louis Paddadin
Favorite Kitchen Gadget: Microplane

So does the AAA Five-Diamond rating add pressure to your job?
Yes. There are only 50 Five Diamond restaurants in the world. I look at that list all the time to see who my peer group is, and it’s the leaders of the culinary world.

Did this latest round of judging have you worried?
I was working a catering job out of the hotel when I got word that the critic was here. Can you image being out of your kitchen on such an important occasion?

You spent most of your career as a private chef on yachts. Why did you want to go back to working in a restaurant?
My wife and I wanted to start a family. Being a private chef, you are always traveling on someone else’s schedule.

What is your first food memory?
Sitting in my mother’s garden with a salt shaker and a ripe tomato, when I was probably about four or five years old.

Did you grow up in a cooking family?
Yes. My mom was a very good cook. She was very experimental, which a lot of the time worked out well. A couple of times it was “back to the drawing board.”

Who has influenced your cooking the most?
The first chef I worked for out of culinary school, George Morrone at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco, who beat me down and built me back up again. He taught me to own my product, own my craft and everything I did in the kitchen.

Why did you become a chef?
I use to watch a show on PBS called “Great Chefs.” I found myself glued to the TV every time that show was on.

Za'atar crusted king salmon
Za’atar crusted king salmon

What culinary school did you attend?
I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

Do you feel like it was a necessary part of your development as a chef, or did you get more from simply working in the kitchen?
It was necessary for me, because I hungered for the knowledge. I don’t think culinary school is necessary for everyone.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A football player. The reality of life quickly caught up with me.

Fill in the blank: If I weren’t a chef, I’d be…
I would probably be a teacher, history or science.

Who are your favorite chefs?
Thomas Keller, Chris Kostow, Joseph Humphrey, and George Morrone.

Other than The Oakroom, what is your favorite restaurant in Louisville?
610 Magnolia. (Chef De Cuisine) Nick Sullivan is doing a great job over there. I have great respect for (owner) Edward Lee. He puts good talent in his restaurants.

Other than your own restaurant, what’s the first place you’d take an out-of-towner?
I’d say Nulu, in general. I’ll take them on a restaurant walk with a course at each place.

Which seasonings don’t you respect?
Italian seasoning. Nothing against Italians. It’s the marketing behind it.

Which are underrated?
Smoked paprika. It adds a nice dimension.

Are there any culinary trends you are wild about right now?
Farm to Table. It is trendy right now, but it’s an aspect of being a chef you have to be in tune with throughout your career.

Any trends you consider overrated?
Tacos.

What do you think is the next worthwhile food/dining trend?
The small plate movement. I think when diners come in they want to try eight things rather than one big entrée.

What music was playing in the kitchen last night?
One of our favorites is Heartless Bastards. We like Devil Makes Three and Trampled by Turtles.

What was the last book you read?
“Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook” by Daniel Humm. His cookbook tells a story through food and the seasons.

What’s your favorite go-to ingredient?
Fois Gras.

Is there a guilty-secret ingredient in your kitchen—something you’d rather not be spotted using?
Ranch dressing.

What’s in your fridge at home?
We like to eat healthy. There is always fresh cut vegetables and dips, hummus. Maybe some steaks and a lot of eggs.

Is there anything in that home fridge you’d rather not admit to having?
It’s not in my fridge, but on my fridge. A giant jar of Jelly Bellys.

What food is your guilty pleasure?
Jelly Belly and ice cream bars. My wife buys these really indulgent ice cream bars.

Venison chops
Venison chops

Is there a food you can’t bring yourself to eat?
No. I’ll try anything once.

Your favorite quick meal to prepare at home?
Sloppy Joes.

Your worst kitchen nightmare?
The first restaurant that I ran, the walk-in freezer shut down the night before Valentine’s Day, and ruined everything. We were voted most romantic restaurant in the Bay Area, so we were booked to the gills.

Best cooking tip for a novice?
Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done with food?
I have to watch myself, because I do a lot of dumb things. When I first messed with zanthan gum, a food stabilizer, I used too much. When you do that, it turns to glop. I turned an entire batch of sauce into a pot of snot.

What’s your last meal on earth, if you had the chance to choose?
A tasting menu at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas.

Most memorable meal?
When I worked on the boats, we were at this hotel called Delito. It had this little dump of a dining room. The chef was this 85-year old woman. She blew my mind with the most amazing seafood.

Your last food-related “wow moment” was..?
A lot of things wow me with food. The last one would have to be the meal that we cooked last night at the Field of Forks. Every ingredient that we used came from within a 20 mile radius.

Give us one reason Louisville should be considered a culinary destination for traveling foodies?
Ultimately, it comes down to the dining public. The community really supports creative chefs, which is liberating.

The Oakroom
500 South Fourth Street
Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 807-3463
www.theoakroomlouisville.com