Ryan Baldwin likes to surprise people. At Tastebuds American Bistro, he's always trying to think up new menu items. "I hardly ever do the same specials," he says. "You would think I would just look in my file and go, ‘Let me do this one I did six months ago,' but I just don't. Every week, I try to be as creative as possible."
Baldwin, 27, is head chef at Tastebuds (4019 MacArthur Ave., 261-6544), where he has worked for about two years. He describes the restaurant's cuisine as a regional fusion with influences from various ethnicities. Among his innovations are dishes such as peach-arugula-ricotta pizza, peach cobbler with black-pepper ice cream and deconstructed s'mores that he made from scratch — including the graham crackers and marshmallows.
Occasionally, though, something doesn't come out just right. Once, he made ice-cream sandwiches that didn't freeze and set properly. While the dessert tasted fine, it turned out like soft-serve ice cream with a brownie. He ended up standing nervously in the kitchen as the dessert was served.
Baldwin grew up eating the Southern-style cooking of his grandmothers, Martha Mae Baldwin and Barbara Zabner, but he says that the biggest influence on his cooking came from his father, Asa Ryan Baldwin III, who died a year and a half ago. A lifelong Richmond-area resident, Ryan Baldwin started his restaurant career at a Midlothian pancake house at age 15. He was hired as a busboy, but a cook was needed, so he took that position. His list of employers includes Ruth's Chris Steak House, Havana '59, and the former Cabo's Corner Bistro, among others.
He attended community colleges, but never finished. He found that he was always too busy with work. "It's unfortunate, but a lot of kids come out of culinary school thinking they know pretty much everything, and it's not even a pinch compared to just being in the heat every night learning the different aspects of the business," Baldwin says. Still, he hasn't ruled out further studies, and he hopes to see more of the world. "I definitely plan on traveling ... maybe two or three weeks in Italy or Spain. I would love to go to Japan, Thailand, Australia."