Though he’s recently engaged, Jared Richardson won’t spend the most romantic night of the year at a table for two.
As the new chef at Capital Plaza Hotel, he’ll be too busy cooking an elegant five-course Valentine’s Day dinner for other couples in love.
Lucky for Richardson, his fiancée, Samantha Rogers, is a good sport.
“She’s going to come with some friends,” he said of his bride-to-be. “So, hopefully, if I’m not too busy, I’ll get to go out into the dining room and see her.”
The themed dinner is a first for the hotel, so Richardson put extra thought into every ingredient. The evening will begin with a glass of Kentucky Kir Royale followed by lobster bisque and a colorful Aphrodisiac salad. Guests will then choose entrees ranging from steaks and seafood to stuffed Cornish game hen.
“I’m thinking Samantha’s going to go with the scallops because they’re going to be big and beautiful and served with a blood orange beurre, like a red butter sauce,” Richardson said. “The citrus flavor will go nicely with the Hawaiian sea salt I’m going to sear them with. I’ll probably serve them with some beautiful asparagus and a wild rice.”
The main course will be followed up by a selection of desserts.
“Themed meals are so much fun,” said Richardson, who took over as executive chef in August. “Plus, it’s a break in the monotony of doing the same thing. The staff really gets into it.”
More themed meals, better quality foods, a new menu – which debuts this spring – and a dedication to good seafood as well as “the best steak in town” are part of the emphasis Richardson is bringing to the hotel restaurant and catering service.
“We’re leaning toward Kentucky fare – shrimp and grits, catfish, fried oysters and good Kentucky sides,” said Richardson, who’s eager for spring when the Farmers Market located just opposite the hotel opens.
“I’ll be able to run across the street to grab fresh tomatoes and corn and whatever else we want to do,” he said, listing several of his favorites: corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, whipped potatoes, wild rice and roasted beets. He’s all about simple yet flavorful sides.
Richardson is best known for his dishes at Wallace Station Deli and Bakery featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” He helped start the Versailles restaurant in 2003, where his signature dishes and sauces are still used. He describes the iconic spot as New York style deli food with a Kentucky twist.
Wallace Station was his first Kentucky venture after receiving his culinary degree from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Before school, he trained under several Kentucky chefs, who finally convinced him that he’d learned everything he could in the kitchen and needed a degree.
He may have earned his official chef’s title from the most prestigious culinary school in America, but Richardson’s credentials run much deeper. He first learned to cook from his grandmother and mother, Josephine Richardson, who owns the popular Courthouse Café, in Whitesburg, Ky., where Jared Richardson grew up.
He started out with simple Italian dishes and “really good mountain food” like soup beans and cornbread and angel biscuits with fried chicken.
His characteristic enthusiasm for good food comes out as he talks about his eastern Kentucky childhood when he would dip angel biscuits in homemade apple butter and pop them into his mouth one by one.
“Get me going, and I could talk about food all day,” he apologizes.
There’s no need for him to apologize, says Tanya Priddy, a classically trained chef who manages the hotel restaurant. Richardson takes the ordinary and turns it into something extraordinary every day, she says.
“His enthusiasm and energy are great,” Priddy said. “No joke, we can talk about a regular candy bar, and he makes it sound great.”
For example, she said, Thursday they were talking about peanut butter sandwiches, which led to French toast and bananas, and by the end of the discussion, they were in the kitchen making French toast smothered in peanut butter, chocolate and bananas.
“And it was delicious,” Priddy said.
The best part, Richardson says, is getting to see people enjoy his recipes. Valentine’s night, when he sneaks into the dining room to see his fiancée, he hopes to stop by other tables.
That’s why he doesn’t mind being a chef on Valentine’s Day.
“You get all sorts of people coming out,” he said. “I love getting out and walking around and talking to people and hearing their stories.”
The Valentine’s Day dinner at the Terrace at Capital Plaza Hotel starts seating at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. It’s reservation only, and a few tables remain. Call 227-5100, extension 5101, to make a reservation.