Rick Holguin is the personification of determination and hard work. We recently caught up with Chef Rick during a rare break in the action at Raven & Rose to learn more about his past, influences and culinary style. By staying true to his lifelong ambition to cook amazing food, he now is at the helm of one of Portland’s most exciting restaurants, overseeing a massive food program that spans eight different menus.
WTEG: Tell me about your background – Where are you from? Where else have you worked?
Rick: I was born in Salem, Oregon and grew up in Aumsville where there aren’t even stoplights. I couldn’t afford to go to culinary school. I grew up with a grandmother who did a lot of cooking and—ever since I was a young kid—I was always in the kitchen with her. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a chef; it was just a dream of mine. One day, I had an opportunity to work in a kitchen and I just worked my ass off. I read a lot of books, I even moved to Hawaii for six years to get different ideas and influences in my cooking. I worked for Chef Mavro on Oahu (a very talented chef and his eponymous restaurant in the classic French tradition with unique island flare) as well as 12th Avenue Grill, one of the only modern-American restaurants on the island. It’s been a fun ride.
WTEG: There are so many different ways to enjoy Raven & Rose – you offer a dinner menu, a lunch menu, a bar menu, a Sunday brunch and a Sunday roast, in addition to catering, happy hours and desserts… do you ever take a break?
Rick: You live inside your head trying to make everything different and new, trying to keep up with the seasons and what everyone else is doing. I’m always trying to do the best I can to create new fun food. It’s a rough life. It’s not for everybody.
WTEG: What’s your favorite table in the restaurant?
Rick: My favorite table is the chef counter. Paul—one of our oven cooks—is really good at talking to guests about what we’re doing, explaining things, and it’s really cool to have that experience with the kitchen. I think it makes for a better dining experience when guests can actually interact with people cooking their food.
WTEG: When designing the menu, how do you differentiate between the downstairs dining room and The Rookery Bar upstairs?
Rick: That’s always under development. We like to keep it classier but fun downstairs. Upstairs we like to do interesting foods that stand out for a bar atmosphere. We’re always trying new things upstairs. It’s pretty fun completely separating it and doing two different styles in one place…and having such a big menu.
WTEG: Are there any changes we can expect to see on your menu in 2015?
Rick: We’re making a lot of different changes. We’re going to go a little bit heartier. We’re going to do a little bit more game, getting a little more of the English countryside vibe to finish out the rest of the cold season.
We’re constantly developing, molding and creating new dishes. We go to the famers’ markets, you can always catch us there—especially around the spring, summer and early fall. We go with a big cart and just stack it to the very top. We always create new things based on the changing seasons.
We’re going to be doing a lot of fun things here, especially utilization of the whole animal. I’m going to start incorporating some creative things like that.
WTEG: History plays such an important role in your restaurant – in what ways does the Ladd Carriage House itself inspire your work?
Rick: I love the atmosphere in the building. We do this rustic, classy English-style-country food meets American country food, and it gives you room to play based on the building. Our fried rabbit dish is a great example. It’s eccentric, it’s large portion, but it’s classy.
WTEG: What’s the most exotic food you’ve ever tried?
Rick: I would say lamb brains or pig spleen.
WTEG: What is your favorite neighborhood in Portland?
Rick: I actually really like Sellwood. It’s a good place to raise a family, it’s a tight-knit neighborhood.
WTEG: I’ve never read anything less than a glowing review for your baked mac ‘n cheese – what’s your secret?
Rick: It’s all about the beer, the ale we use. I think that’s what it comes down to, a nice slow cook and just consistency.
WTEG: Lisa Mygrant (owner of Raven & Rose) is an avid vegetable gardener and has cultivated relationships with many local specialty producers and farmers – what are some of your favorite vendors and suppliers for your menu?
Rick: We love our friends at Rick Steffen, Viridian Farms, Gathering Together, Dancing Chicken and Cascade Organics. If you go down to the farmers’ market, those are the people you’ll meet.
Raven & Rose is located in SW Downtown Portland in the historic Ladd Carriage House on the corner of Broadway and Columbia. Raven & Rose is open Monday through Friday for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Monday Happy Hour in the dining room from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dinner service on Saturday is offered from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., while Sunday brunch is offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday roast is offered from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.. The Rookery Bar is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 4 p.m.to 10 p.m. with Happy Hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 4 p.m. to 12 midnight with Happy Hour from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m., and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 12 midnight. Secure a reservation by calling (503) 222-ROSE (7673).
Photo Credits: Raven & Rose