Today is National New England Clam Chowder Day and so of course, I asked my friend Michele Ragussis for her recipe. She is an authority on New England cuisine. Michele is not only the queen of clam chowder, but likely has been on more competition cooking shows than any other chef. You might recognize her from Food Network's Chopped, 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, Beat Bobby Flay, Season 8 of Food Network Star, Food Fighters on NBC, and most recently, Midnight Feast on the FYI Network.
I first saw Michele Ragussis when I walked into the audition for Food Network Star in New York. She wasn't hard to spot... she and a few of the other restaurant chefs were standing together, arms crossed, extremely confident that they were the bad---es to be reckoned with in the competition. Michele ended up on Bobby Flay's team, his first selection during that audition process. If you watch her audition video, it is easy to see why.
Michele has a huge heart and is generous. She always shows up ready to work when I've asked her for a favor... and she always gives it 100%. I love her food- which is as warm and homey as her personality.
Michele, like me, attributes her love of cooking to her mother, Phyllis. I've not met Phyllis but feel like I know her. I heard Michele talk about her everyday during our Food Network Star taping. In fact, Michele taught me her mom's Arancini recipe and it has become one of my favorites.
Michele has recently moved to Boston and will take over the restaurant at Central House Crown & Anchor in Provincetown, Massachusetts in the coming weeks.
Get to know more about Michele in our Q & A with her below:
GET TO KNOW CHEF MICHELE RAGUSSIS
@chefmichele on Instagram, @MRagussis on Twitter, Michele Ragussis on Facebook
Where you’re from: Derby, CT
Current city of residence: I recently moved to Boston, Mass and have just accepted a job in P-Town... Provincetown, MA which is on the New England coast.
Where you’d love to live someday: Greece. I’m half Greek so I’d love to live the life of my ancestors.
Family: My immediate family is my mom Phyllis, my sisters Barbara and Chris, and of course, my dog, Maximus, the most beautiful cocker spaniel in the world plus my three nieces, and my nephew.
Mentor: Phyllis. My mom. When it comes to food, Phyllis inspired and taught me almost everything I know about cooking the food I grew up with. I like to cook it with my own spin on it but I got everything I know from Phyllis.
Favorite kitchen tool? Tongs. They are my third hand. I always have a pair of tongs in my hand in the kitchen.
What ingredient can you not live without? Olive oil.
What do you hate to cook? Casseroles.
What is your favorite recipe? Phyllis' rice balls. Note: I had to ask her who makes them better- she replied, "oh, snap... Phyllis, of course. Moms make everything better!" I could not agree more. I have my own version of Phyllis' rice balls posted on my blog. Get the recipe.. Michele serves it with a creamy Bechamel sauce. Decadent and divine.
Favorite book? Things I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey.
Michele's ultimate dinner party guest list would include these four: Jennifer Anniston, Oprah Winfrey, Bobby Flay, and Ellen DeGeneres.
And if you had to cook for them, what would you make? Something Greek because Jennifer’s Greek and I’m Greek- besides, who doesn’t love Greek food? I’d start with Spanakopita, and we’d have a beautiful, roasted Greek style leg of lamb. I’d stick with the Mediterranean thing ….. Baklava for dessert.
What are you listening to right now? Dave Matthews. Always.
Favorite cookbook of all time: One from Lidia Bastianich. Any one of them.
Latest accomplishment? I’ve just been named Executive Chef of the Central House at the Crown and Anchor in Provincetown. It’s awesome. There’s Cabaret Theater, Bernadette Peters is playing there soon…. An 18 room hotel and a pool bar. It is right on the ocean. I’m planning an all New England seafood menu with a Mediterranean twist.
Guilty pleasure? White Castle cheeseburgers.
Like so many chefs, you have a ton of tattoos. What was your first tattoo and what is your favorite? My first tattoo was a hummingbird. My favorite is my New England tattoo.
Favorite travel destination: Every summer, I go to Provincetown with my friends but now that I’m going to be working there, I’m going to say New York City. I used to live there and I go when I can to see friends, check out new restaurant trends, and get my favorite soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai. Oh and I go to Saltie’s in Williamsburg for the best sandwich in the entire world, the Balmy. It is ham, chicken liver pate and jalapenos with mayo and pickled vegetables… it is heaven on focaccia bread.
Where do you want to go you haven’t been yet? Sicily. I’m Sicilian and I want to see where my family came from.
Must have travel accessory: Headphones.
Best advice, tool, or equipment for the home cook: Get good pans. Crappy pans make for crappy food. They radiate heat so much better and will keep the heat evenly distributed.