Chef 101 With Rodney Scruggs

Chef 101 With Rodney Scruggs, executive chef at Occidental Grill and Seafood

Previous culinary experience — I started about 25 years ago, first at the Occidental. After that I was with Chef Francesco Ricchi. Then I was chef to the president at American University. I came back to the Occidental about five years ago.

When I’m not eating my own food — I really enjoy CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. They have a great bar menu and the chef there, [Eric Ziebold], is amazing. I also like Chipotle.

Born and raised —Born in Greenville, S.C. Raised in Pittsburgh and Alexandria, [Va.].

Food I cannot stand — I’m not a fan of blue cheese at all. I actually kind of have a gag reflex to it — especially the stinky kind.

Greatest cooking influence —  It’s between my grandma, who really influenced me and showed me the passion, and Chef [Jeffrey] Buben, who was at the Occidental when I first started there and showed me what it takes to be a professional chef.

Views on cooking TV shows —  I think in some ways, having cooking shows out there has kind of brought cooking to the forefront. I think they’ve heightened the popularity of the profession. At the same time, many of them aren’t realistic. “Hell’s Kitchen,” for example — those people aren’t real cooks. So it’s a double-sided sword.  

Strangest cuisine I’ve tried — Unfortunately, I probably haven’t tried that much strange [cuisine]. But I’ve always wanted to try haggis, a Scottish dish composed of various guts. 

Must-have cooking utensil — I like my serrated knife with a curved upper angle. I use that for everything in the kitchen.

Thoughts on Washington’s food scene — I think it’s awesome, but I think it has gotten oversaturated. There are so many restaurants now it’s hard to tell the good from the bad. 

Worst kitchen disaster — There was this one time, it wasn’t exactly a disaster, but almost. There were a lot of wealthy people visiting the restaurant, and it was getting super-busy with a lot of big tickets, and some of the staff couldn’t handle it. I had to send three people home, which was a third of my staff that night. It ended up being like an episode of “Hell’s Kitchen.” I had to ask people and myself to do extraordinary things. But it all worked out.

Biggest pet peeve in the kitchen — There’s an old saying, “When someone whistles in the kitchen, they want the chef dead.” In the last five months, I’ve got five whistlers in my kitchen. It’s just a superstition, but it still feels funny. But seriously, my biggest thing is that you’ve got to keep things clean. You’ve got to clean as you go. Some of my staff are like little kids, and from the moment I walk in the kitchen, I’m telling them to clean and put things away. I just can’t work in a dirty, disorganized kitchen.

Three people I’d never want to see in the kitchen — I don’t think that’s a good question. What about the people I would like to see in there?  Number one would be my cousin, who has a love for cooking and has come to watch me work before. I’d love to see him give it a real shot. Second is [Chef] R.J. Cooper [of Vidalia] — he just has a unique style that would be cool to observe. And then Chef Guy Savoy from France. I’ve had some amazing food from him.

Strangest things cooked — I cooked barnacles before. We got them in the restaurant and I had the opportunity to cook them. People thought they were interesting.  

Age — 42

Marital status — Married