Rancho T owner Tuffy Stone, the tall, rangy barbecue pitmaster who’s also a classically trained chef, doesn’t want to speak for his new chef, Richmond native Danielle Goodreau. Nonetheless, he has a lot to say about her. Lots and lots.
“There’s a bunch of layers to this,” he says. “I get resumes all the time. I like the fact that she went to [University of] Michigan. I like the fact that she went to Cordon Bleu [College of Culinary Arts] in Chicago, and I like the fact that she worked a total of three places there and that lasted about 7 1/2 years — longevity when most guys might work three months here and three months there.
“And I liked the fact that she worked at Marcus Samuelsson’s C-House — I had worked a weekend with him years ago at the Masters Food & Wine where I volunteered, and he’s a great guy and I like what he does. And I like that she went to Sonoma. I’d just come back from teaching at the Culinary Institute in Napa. Without even knowing her, I knew she’d used a lot of good product, and reading her resume, there was only good experience and no bad experience.
“I wasn’t familiar with Alembic [Goodreau was most recently sous chef there] but I love San Francisco and I pulled up that website and looked at those foods,” he says, without pausing or seeming to take a breath. “And I liked them.”
Stone invited her to Richmond. “Three good interviews and I thought, ‘But can she cook?’”
He put her to the test. Along with Stone’s wife, Leslie, friend and well-known Richmond chef J. Frank and Rancho T co-owner Ed Vasaio, Stone sat at a table at the front of his catering firm, A Sharper Palate, and waited.
“I could tell she was nervous,” Stone says. “I had come earlier to help and realized I just needed to stay out of her way.”
“Could you see my hands shaking?” Goodreau asks.
All four diners were impressed. A couple of the dishes from that day are now on Rancho T’s menu: shrimp gnocchi with a bagna cauda foam and rockfish with confit potatoes and maitake. Goodreau ended the meal with a brown butter rosemary ice cream.
“I like the way she puts food on a plate,” he says. “Her food is so pretty, unplaced and natural.” The food’s texture was great, and Stone — who isn’t particularly a fan of new technology — was blown away by the bagna cauda foam.
J. Frank, according to Stone, stated at the end of the meal that no one in Richmond was cooking like Goodreau.
She was hired.
Right now, the Rancho T menu is in transition. Everyone is trying to figure out the happy medium between what customers want and what Goodreau would like to cook. Former chef Aaron Cross, soon to assume the sous position at Walter Bundy’s Shagbark, took the name of the restaurant and put an emphatic Latin American stamp on its food.
Goodreau considers herself a Cal-American chef. “That experience in California influenced me the most,” she says. “You’re not pigeonholed in one specific flavor profile.” She’s bringing spices such as zatar and sumac to the menu, a sweet and spicy Calabrian chili jam that coats green olives and a burger fancied up with maitake, gruyere and aioli. The Latin American influences are still there in some dishes, but that might gradually fade away.
Still, Stone says: “People ask every single day where the tacos went.”
In San Francisco, at Alembic, head chef Ted Fleury encouraged his two sous chefs to collaborate with him. “It was very cohesive and everyone really worked together to put stuff on the menu,” Goodreau says. “The clientele was very adventurous and you could be as unrestrained as you wanted to.”
As she finds her footing at Rancho T, she thinks about the long list of ideas that she put in a Google Doc and shared with Frank, Vasaio and Stone. Like Cross, she has an all-star support team in place to help her discover the right food for this reboot of the restaurant.
“I think some of the flavors I’ll do may be new to Richmonders,” she says, “but I’ll think they’ll be fitting — they don’t know they like them yet.”