The man known to most cooking enthusiasts as simply “Ricardo” has seen his first name become a trademark and a benchmark for quality in the kitchen, and is now the face of a media empire that stretches from coast to coast. “If I keep talking to you about food,” he says, “it’s because I’m obsessed!”. Sitting comfortably on a colourful sofa in his Longueuil office, Ricardo gives long and enthusiastic answers to every question, always bringing it back (almost subconsciously) to food. “Everything I do for the community, with La Tablée des chefs, for example, is along the same lines: I want to help make people of all ages more independent and proud of themselves. Everyone likes someone who can cook!”
The power of the plate
Some might find sitting down to share a meal together trivial, but Ricardo treasures every moment. “When you eat, you talk to others, you tell them about your day, you swap stories, the meal brings you closer together. If you eat with your roommates, they become your friends, your family. If you have kids and mealtimes are a nightmare, well, that’s just the way it is! But all the kids will remember is the times they laughed until they cried.”
Ricardo is on a roll. “I’d even say it helps immigrants to integrate. Sharing a meal with a stranger is a chance to enjoy each other’s company. It doesn’t always work miracles, but it doesn’t take long for us to realize we all want the same thing: to be happy. I’ve always thought it’s better to eat a Kraft Dinner with people we love than to eat a filet mignon alone.”
Outside the kitchen
Some might be surprised to hear Ricardo say that. He is, after all, a man best known for his talents in the kitchen, but it all makes sense once he explains that happiness, for him, comes from spending time with family and friends, by doing the same things together every day. And all that is more important than exquisite meals cooked by Michelin-starred chefs. “I like things that keep on happening. We should be able to find happiness in our routines, not necessarily in the big events, otherwise they quickly lose their shine.”
Like a child, Ricardo likes to work on his sense of wonder. It’s like strawberries, he says: we can’t wait for summer to arrive to eat our first strawberries. “That might seem incredibly boring. But it’s the exact opposite: happiness is walking 100 times along the same street, because there’s always something new to discover.”
Happiness crops up again and again like a leitmotiv in Ricardo’s answers. Every decision, he says, whether a personal or business decision, brings him closer to his ultimate goal. We know him as a TV host, a chef, a businessman—and now as an apprentice winemaker thanks to a line of South African wines that bear his name.
Given his interest in politics and his involvement in social causes, it seems only natural to ask if he has considered becoming a politician. “Yes, but… my family will always come first. Brigitte [his wife] went along with my dream, and she’s the voice I’ll always listen to. I want to do what I do because I enjoy it, not for the thrill of it or because I’m too proud to give up. I want to do it to make my family happy. Same goes for my business. As well as having a company that makes money, my employees have to be happy doing what they do.”
If one was forced to guess at the secret of his success, it might be said that Ricardo knows how to surround himself with the right people. Anyone trying to keep up will need plenty of passion and energy, only natural when hoping to keep pace with a man who always seems to have 36,000 projects on the go. “I always go too far. If you’re going to bake me a cake, make it one with eight layers! And I surround myself with people like that. I don’t like doing things by halves, I like people who think big! As I tell my team every day: Nothing but the best will do!” It’s a vision that has taken him from one side of the country to the other, both for Ricardo & Friends, his show on Food Network Canada, and to promote his books.
Ricardo sees beyond two solitudes, with the wisdom of the seasoned traveller. “I’m happy wherever I am in Canada. I started my career with CBC Regina, where I spent some of my happiest years as a young man. What divides us is not knowing enough about others. As soon as you have friends, the barriers come tumbling down. I feel at home everywhere: in Montréal, Calgary, or Vancouver.”
Get him talking about France, where he vacations with his family, or even South Africa and the affection still comes across in his voice, the sound of a man who is interested in other cultures and, especially, other people.
“I was travelling with Brigitte and fell in love with Cape Town. I have never been as touched by people and by nature. I said to my wife, ‘This land is talking to me.’” It was only natural for me to make my wine there. My daughters love the smell of wine, love walking through the vineyards. I wanted to give them that.” And it was for his daughters that he put their family name on the bottle and not his more famous first name.
Later that day, after our interview, Ricardo would be busy tasting his wines. “It’s going to be a late night!” he laughed. Before he was allowed a drop, though, he first had to give his opinion on a pie (“The crust is too hard.”) and two dried-bacon recipes (“The pepper one is delicious!”) before saving a plumbing job from disaster. Just as well the golden boy of Quebec’s cooking scene has always had his feet planted firmly on the ground.
A home away from home
Ricardo has stayed at Germain hotels for years. “I’ve had the same room in Toronto for 6 or 7 years,” he says. “I go there so often people tell me I should buy a place of my own. No way! I’d miss the staff too much.”
He even calls Hôtel Le Germain Toronto his “lucky hotel.” “If I have to meet someone, I meet them in the lounge. It always brings me luck!”