Chef Ricardo has long been the darling of the kitchen in Quebec. After making his television debut nearly 15 years ago with his show Ricardo on Radio-Canada, the famous chef is still busy today with his own magazine, cookbooks, cookware line, wines, and a Web site full of recipes. When he's not cooking up a storm in the kitchen, the renowned chef can be found feeding his passion for all things bleu-blanc-rouge. We caught up with the man behind the apron between takes on set to learn more about his love for the Canadiens.
How long have you been a Habs fan?
RICARDO: At home, nobody watched hockey. My father and mother weren't into sports. We would sometimes watch hockey at family parties. It wasn't really until I started ninth grade at a new school (College Saint-Hilaire) that was very, very into the sport that I started to like hockey and the Canadiens. During the winter we played hockey every day at lunch and every morning before school started. I was terrible. I had never skated in my life. My friends, who are still my best friends today, would joke that it made no sense that I could even be that bad and that they would need to do something about it. They started to teach me how to play hockey and eventually said, "You'll never be good, but at least you'll be able to play." I became the team goon. I was always the one in the penalty box. I was trying to find a way to stand out, although that probably wasn't the best way, but I had fun. That's when I got into hockey. Same thing at Cegep. I started watching games at the local bar while I was at ITHQ (Institut de tourisme et d'hotellerie du Quebec) with my friends. There's a social side to hockey and I've always been social. I'm not the biggest sports fan in the world, but I probably am the most social. (laughs). I love anything that allows me to spend time with people and have fun. That's why the Canadiens are so important to me. Beyond the sport, through the hockey team, there's something that brings people together. If you watch hockey alone, it's never the same. When I'm alone in my hotel room, I'll still watch, but it's not the same.
You mentioned you were the goon on your team. Were you inspired by any player in particular?
R: Not really. I think I was the one who actually inspired the players. (laughs) Now, I love to hate. I'm a guy who has a memory that remembers moments more than specific players. Even if you ask me who my favorite current player is, my reflex is to name my favorite three players right now. It's like when someone asks me what my favorite recipe is. I'm all over the place. (laughs)
What's your favorite Canadiens memory?
R: The Stanley Cup in 1993. I was on Sainte-Catherine street and I remember it like it was yesterday. I had never experienced a moment of euphoria like that. I've also watched the Canada vs. Russia game a hundred times. And the jersey retirements, too. It's mostly the touching moments like those that make me emotional. I'd also say Saku Koivu's return. My girlfriend had cancer and that moment really touched me. I cried tears of pride that night. It was a great example of the fighting spirit. That's what hockey is all about.
How often do you make it to the Bell Centre for a game?
R: I have season tickets with a friend and we split the season in two. When I can't go, I give my tickets away. The last game I had tickets for, my wife went with my eldest son. I was happy they could go and they were sending me text messages throughout the night so I got to live a bit of the game through them. It's all about the ritual for us. I go with my wife and my friend and we'll go for dinner together before the game. This year was a disaster, though. I went maybe six times. In a good year, I attend about half the games. At the beginning of the year, I look at the schedule and I'm often able to figure out whether I'll be available or not. If not, I'll give them as Christmas gifts to my employees to say thank you. Everyone is excited when they receive tickets. For me, it's like winning the bronze medal.
You travel a lot for work. What's the most unusual place you've watched a game?
R: I'm a bit boring. I'm never in unusual places - I'll usually stay at the hotel. I'm not a big tech geek and sometimes I don't know how to watch the game, so I listen to 98.5 FM on the app. During one of the games against the Senators in the playoffs, I could hear my neighbor in his room. We were both cheering pretty loud, just not at the same time. He was obviously cheering for the Sens, and I was cheering for the Habs. I'll usually order a drink and some chicken wings from room service, eat my dinner, watch hockey and cheer for the Canadiens. Sure enough, we won that night, so I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote "Goodnight, loser!" and slipped it under my neighbor's door. The next morning, we randomly left our rooms at the same time. I gave him a little smile and he just said, "I hope you'll be in the same room for the next game." It was pretty funny. That's the most intense thing I've ever done. I was alone in my bathrobe in the hotel hallway to slide a note under a stranger's door just to annoy him. I've never done anything like that. When I told my wife, she was like, "You can't be serious! Stop exaggerating." I still don't know what came over me.
A few years ago you worked on a magazine, Cooking with the Canadiens in support of the Canadiens Children's Foundation. Tell me a little about your experience with that.
R: I developed recipes for the Canadiens and every player I approached agreed to give me a family recipe - one that meant something to them. I have a pasta recipe from Carey Price's family that comes from his Aboriginal roots, and I have an amazing recipe for banana bread from Mathieu Darche, who I'm still friends with today. They really were their personal recipes. I just tweaked them so everyone would be able to make the dishes. Some players gave us pictures of their families from when they were young. It was a very nice project, very intimate. There were some healthy recipes. We wanted to make sure that people who love food and the Canadiens got their money's worth. I'm the luckiest guy in the world. I made a magazine to raise money for the Canadiens Children's Foundation, I had barbecues with the players, I've seen them many times with their wives, and I had a relationship with the players during that season and got to know them and that made me love them even more. The team is not only comprised of great athletes, but also of great family guys. The organization has a vision that I really like. I think that's why the team is playing better. It's the family environment. We really have a great team and not just on the ice. They're good guys. Pleasant, generous, and funny. Even the shy guys are great to be around. I like the team even more after seeing how down-to-earth the guys are.
How difficult was it to get the players out of their comfort zone?
R: I didn't have any trouble at all. They knew I didn't want to get into their private lives. What interested me was seeing how passionate they were when they were young. They were really open and had no problem talking to us.
Which current player on the team is the best chef?
R: Their wives are the real cooks. (laughs) It's really hard to say. Most of the players, like Price and P.K [Subban] are pretty good. They like good wine and they really know their stuff. They go to the best restaurants. They're gourmet. They love fine dining, but they can work a barbeque, too. Some of these guys have pretty impressive wine collections. I can't really say which guy would be the best.
If you could choose one player to come on your show, who would it be?
R: I would cook with Carey. I loved his history, his family, his Aboriginal roots. I would love to cook with him.
Do you think he'd make a good sous-chef?
R: Probably. I would have a lot of fun with P.K., too. He's a superstar. I would give him a recipe, and after four ingredients, he'd already be changing it up to make it his own. I don't think he would follow my game plan to the letter. He would be like an artist with my recipe, which is okay, too. Carey would follow the game plan. He doesn't improvise. Goalies are more rational and organized, always in their head, very methodical. As a sous-chef, I would be more into Carey, but for a big party, or a show on TV, P.K. is the guy.
What do you think about the famous "chicken and pasta" meal players always eat before games?
R: It's all about protein. Chicken and pasta does the job. I'm a bit of a superstitious guy. The players have really strict diets and their regimes are created by some of the best in the industry. All the studies show it can give you a good boost of energy. If they ate chicken and pasta before the game but ate poorly for the previous three days, it isn't going to work. Chicken and pasta pre-game works, though.
In your opinion what's the best snack to eat during a hockey game?
R: I'd go with an old classic: hockey needs chicken wings. I like spicy Buffalo wings. I eat them every game. So it's wings, nachos, and always a cold beer. I also order mini ribs often, but cut into individual serving sizes - you have to be able to eat them with your hands. To finish the game, I have a Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar. After that, I'm happy. And of course you need some of my bleu-blanc-rouge shots!