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Cream of the crop

Any chef would have given a bushel of beluga to be in THAT PHOTOGRAPH . . . the one that ran in the Dec. 20, 1994, Napa Valley Register.

The picture showed Julia Child, lips pursed, armed with a hand mixer, passionately whipping a bowl full of who-knows-what, while Chef Rosanne Ruiz carefully added a splash of flavoring.It wasn't your everyday newspaper clipping . . . rather, the kind of memoir some folks would paper an entire kitchen with. Or needlepoint. Or laminate into place mats.

SOME folks.

After all, if you're into food, being the "someone in the kitchen with Julia" is a big deal.

At that time, Ruiz was serving as executive chef of the Robert Mondavi Food & Wine Center in Costa Mesa, Calif.

While at Mondavi, she worked with some of the finest gourmet cooks in the world - including the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic culinary team.

And Julia.

Her fast-track career took her to several high-quality California eateries, then to Park City.

Presently, The Capitol Cafe in Salt Lake City, named "Best Bistro in Utah" by Gourmet magazine, is Ruiz' domain. Loyal locals are familiar with Ruiz' skills from her days as executive chef/owner of the acclaimed Grill at the Depot in Park City.

The Capitol, just west of the Capitol Theatre, specializes in what Ruiz calls "California cuisine with a Mediterranean touch."

Every menu item is prepared with the freshest seasonal ingredients available. Each morning, she telephones purveyors, searching and shopping for the best offerings.

Salad greens, for example, are purchased from an organic gardener in north Davis County. Everything starts from scratch - nothing canned.

Ruiz' talents were developed over years of hard work.

In actuality, this talented chef was self-taught.

Born in Santa Maria, Calif., her fondness for things foodish was tweaked at the age of 16 when she worked with her mother at her uncle's restaurant.

By 21, without any cooking school training, she began working in restaurant kitchens, eventually taking a job cooking at a Southern California dude ranch. From there, she went to Yosemite Lodge, then several San Francisco Bay-area restaurants (including Alioto's).

At each place, Ruiz polished vital skills needed to become a professional chef.

"I really paid my dues," she says. "For someone else's two years of school, I paid dues for about seven years."

She suggests aspiring chefs go to culinary school. "You'll have an easier time of it," she recommends.

Even though Ruiz has "arrived," she says a chef's career is grueling.

A schedule of 12 to 14 hours a day, five or six days a week is common, so a wanna-be chef had better love what she does!

The benefits are unique. Ruiz, considered an exceptional regional chef by food pros, has been invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York in April. Only a few Utah chefs have been selected for this prestigious honor.

In an interview, Ruiz listed the "right ingredients" needed to become a good chef.

SKILLS

Knowledge of meat, fish, seasonal produce. Knife skills. Experience with all kitchen stations. Employee management. Time management. Computer skills. Experience with inventory, accounting and basic math.

EDUCATION

High school students should take home economics classes, cooking classes offered by recreation departments, local cooking schools and seminars at local culinary institutes. College-age students should look into programs offered at culinary institutes such as the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Also consider working in a restaurant for hands-on experience.

EXPERIENCE

"The only real experience you'll find is in a restaurant kitchen," says Ruiz. Even dishwashing will be the kind of experience you'll need to get started. Be a part of that atmosphere. Develop your palate and don't be afraid of trial and error.

READING

Cookbooks, magazines and library books can teach you about various styles of cooking. Also consider the computer for online and network sources.

EXTRACURRICULAR

Eat at restaurants (pay attention to presentation as well as the menu.) Take classes. Watch TV programs or rent videos. Have family and friends over for a meal and learn to take criticism.

And finally, Ruiz cautions potential restaurantgoers:

"Never trust a skinny chef."

*****

RECIPES

GRILLED PORK CHOPS WITH BALSAMIC GLAZE

6 center-cut pork chops, 1 1/2-inch thick

3 cups balsamic vinegar

1 yellow onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

4 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped

2 ounces olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in sauce pan; add onion, garlic and thyme. Saute for 5 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar. Bring to boil and then simmer until reduced by half. Set aside glaze. Salt and pepper chops. In oiled frying pan, sear both sides of chops and start dipping them into the reserved glaze. Continue alternately cooking and dipping in glaze until chops are cooked to desired doneness. Serves 6.

- Each serving contains 384 calories, 20g fat, 31g carb, 248mg sodium, 63mg cholesterol.

- From Rosanne Ruiz, Executive Chef, Capitol Cafe

PORCINI MASHED POTATOES

5 Russet potatoes, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon dry porcini mushroom crumbs

Salt and black pepper to taste

Cover porcini crumbs with water. Boil until water is gone. Set aside. Boil potatoes in water until soft; drain water. Add butter, cream and porcini. Whip until fluffy. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 5.

- Each serving contains 202 calories, 9g fat, 29g carb, 164mg sodium, 29mg cholesterol.

- From Rosanne Ruiz, Executive Chef, Capitol Cafe.

PUMPKIN CHEESE CAKE

For Crust:

2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

4 tablespoons sugar

10 tablespoons melted butter

Filling:

1 pound plus 3 ounces cream cheese

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

3 eggs

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cloves

Topping:

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 1/4 tablespoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Prepare crust: Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter together and line the bottom of a springform pan.

Prepare filling: Blend together cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.

Cook in a water bath for 1 hour at 300 degrees F. Turn the oven off and let the cake sit in the oven for 30 minutes with the door ajar. Let the cake cool and then top with sour cream, sugar and vanilla mixture. Serves 8.

- Each serving contains 775 calories, 52g fat, 71g carb, 599mg sodium, 132mg cholesterol.

- From Rosanne Ruiz, Executive Chef, Capitol Cafe

BASIC PASTA DOUGH

4 cups flour

1/4 cup olive oil

3 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

Put flour into a heap on a work surface and make a well in center. Pour the whole egg, one at a time, into the center of well. Add salt, olive oil and beat with a fork. Continue to beat with fork until mixture can be worked by hand. Knead dough for 10 minutes. Roll out with a rolling pin and cut into desired shapes, or use a pasta cutting machine. Makes 11/2 pounds.

- Each serving contains 575 calories, 15g fat, 93g carb, 2162mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol.

- From Rosanne Ruiz, Executive Chef, Capitol Cafe

LINGUINI WITH MANILLA CLAMS, GARLIC, SCALLIONS AND WHITE WINE

24 manilla clams

10 ounces linguini

6 ounces white wine or substitute

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon shallots, diced

2 tablespoons tomato, diced

2 tablespoons scallion, sliced

2 tablespoon garlic, pureed

4 ounces Romano cheese

2 ounces olive oil

Pinch of kosher salt, black

pepper and red pepper

Pinch of chopped parsley

In saute pan, heat oil, add shallots, 1/2 of garlic and clams, cook 2 minutes. Add water, wine, 2 tablespoons butter, salt, black pepper and red pepper. Cook pasta 1 1/2 minutes; add to clams. Add remaining butter and cheese; toss. Add remaining garlic, tomatoes, scallions and parsley; toss. Garnish with cheese and parsley. Serves 4.

- Each serving contains 525 calories, 35g fat, 23g carb, 644mg sodium, 112mg cholesterol.

- From Rosanne Ruiz, Executive Chef, Capitol Cafe