Person of the Week
Chef Ric Orlando: A Champion for Good Causes
Celebrity Chef Ric Orlando returns to emcee and judge the 24th annual Men Who Cook to benefit programs of non-profit Women & Family Life Center on Sunday, Oct. 21 at the Guilford Yacht Club. (Photo by Franco Vogt )
He beat Bobby Flay and is a two-time Chopped champion, but when it comes to putting his star power where his heart is, Chef Ric Orlando chooses serving a good cause every time. On Sunday, Oct. 21, Ric returns to his home state of Connecticut to once again emcee and judge Men Who Cook, benefiting non-profit Women & Family Life Center (WFLC).
It is Ric’s fourth year in the role, and WFLC’s 24th annual Men Who Cook, one of the shoreline’s premier charity events. Each year, a crowded field of volunteer chefs—all prominent community members, or celebrities in their own right—proudly present their signature dishes to create a full dinner of small bite courses.
It’s all served up in a cocktail-party format, for an appreciative crowd of some 250 shoreline movers and shakers. Ticket sales, sponsorships, and the night’s live and silent auctions help raise funds for WFLC programs to help women and families facing change, challenge, or crisis.
A chef and activist, Ric is a New Haven-area native who’s found a home in New York’s Hudson Valley, where he directs the award-winning New World Bistro Bar in the capital city of Albany. So what keeps him coming back to support Guilford-based WFLC?
Ric gives all the credit to WFLC Program Director Wendy DeLucca, who also happens to be his sister, for hooking him up with supporting Men Who Cook.
“It’s actually lots of fun,” says Ric, during a phone interview with the Courier. “I do a lot of cooking classes and public presentations in this market of Albany, so I like working with home cooks. Its inspiring to me to see not only what they come up with, but how much time and energy they put into impressing me as a judge.”
Ric lived in New Haven and East Haven until he was about 22, then moved Boston and finally, New York. He still has plenty of family in this area and is happy to spend a couple of hours on the road to get back whenever he can.
“Let me tell you something, I live in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. I live in the Hudson Valley, its mountains; I’m looking at a big stream behind my house, the changing leaves. But honestly, anytime I can get to Long Island Sound I do, because that’s really where my heart is,” says Ric. “That slow-moving, smelly salt water makes me really happy. I spent a lot of my formative years down in Branford Point and Sachems Head, in that area.”
Serious about cooking but also a bit of a wise guy, Ric is an entertaining yet exacting judge for Men Who Cook. The night always includes some friendly chefs’ contests for fun prizes.
“I’m pretty straight up with everybody. I’ll talk to them about their techniques, what they may have done better,” says Ric. “Sometimes I’ll rag them out for using too many canned products as opposed to making stuff from scratch, but I’m very cool and polite about it—I’m not Gordon Ramsay! But when I go around to each chef, I do tease them that I’m going to give them the Gordon Ramsay treatment, to see how they respond.”
Ric says he’s always very impressed with the dishes served up by the men who cook.
“Most of them are people that don’t cook a lot...so they really put their guts into it,” he says, adding, “The only person who I could never let win is my brother-in-law Rob, Wendy’s husband. He competes every year. I usually sleep at their house the night before, so I say, ‘Listen, no matter what you do, I cannot let you win.’ And he always makes one of the best dishes! Last year, he did a whole filet mignon. He goes all out. His father owned restaurants, and he started out cooking in the business, so he’s got professional experience.”
Ric also greatly appreciates the local businesses and restaurants that throw their support behind community causes like Men Who Cook.
“I think that’s something that comes with the territory,” he says. “I’ve been involved helping not-for-profits for a long time, and it’s amazing how the independent mom-and-pop restaurants are always the people there with the gift certificates, with the free dinners, with the platters of food. Honestly, you never see the change to it. It’s always us. Because we’re community people. I mean most people who run small, independent restaurants have been hiring local kids from the neighborhood to start out in their first jobs. There’s a lot of community connections there.”
Ric also gives huge props to the Men Who Cook volunteer chefs, from those who bring professional cooking experience to the many home cooks and foodies who always bring their A-game.
“It’s a good foodie event,” says Ric.
Coming from Ric, that’s saying something.
“I do these events in Albany, New York, and aside from New York City, it’s the epicenter for non-profits in New York. So I’m involved with some really major events, like for the regional food bank and other events where we have hundreds of people [and] two- or three-day food festivals.”
Turning the national spotlight shining on him towards supporting a good cause is part of the reward Ric is able to reap from his Food Network wins. Going up against some of the food world’s heavies on national TV to win over Flay on Beat Bobby Flay and claim victories against two sets of challengers on Chopped has also given Ric an edge he’s not only earned, but truly appreciates.
“I won Chopped and I did a bunch of other things, but beating Bobby Flay, I get more high-fives for that. I guess people just like to see Bobby lose. He doesn’t lose very often, so that was a good crowning moment for me,” says Ric, who has branched out into several areas of the trade.
“I have a pretty happening podcast right now called One Million Stringbeans, a couple of books that I’m at work on right now—a cookbook and also a memoir—and I’m shooting some videos [for] PBS and independent stuff. I’m also shopping around a pilot for a documentary series, so who knows what’s going to happen,” says Ric, who keeps fans informed with career updates and links to his social media platforms at www.ricorlando.com.
“But right now, I run my restaurant in Albany three days a week and the rest of the time I’m doing writing and podcasting and helping people who need me to help them, you know?” he continues. “Either through cooking classes or benefits for not-for-profits, or pop-ups, stuff like that.”
Right now also happens to be crunch time for Ric.
“I do a lot, especially this time of year. Harvest season, from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, is just the time of year when everything is happening, so I’m there,” he says.
But Ric knows he’ll always find time to put his talent toward supporting worthy causes.
“I love being a part of raising money for not-for-profits in need, through people’s love of food,” he says. “It’s a great way to get people out, and it’s a great way to get people to understand that we have the money and the wherewithal to eat fabulously, but not everybody does. So for us to share that among ourselves, to raise money for those who need it, is really valiant. It’s really a good cause.”
Women & Family Life Center (WFLC) presents the 24th annual Men Who Cook on Sunday, Oct. 21, from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the Guilford Yacht Club, 379 New Whitfield Street, Guilford. Tickets (standard. $135. or patron, $250) are available at www.womenandfamilylife.org. Proceeds benefit programs of non-profit WFLC. For more information, email email@example.com or call 203-458-6699.