September / October 2012
Article and photos
If you have ever cut through the Jackson Street District in Ridgeland, you may have noticed the small, one-story, salmon-pink wooden storefront on the corner of West Jackson and North Wheatley Streets. The 1930’s-era building, with its hand painted signs in the windows, tin roof, and wraparound porch stands out among the modern New Orleans-inspired brick and mortar buildings across the street. While Ró Chez Dining may look a little unassuming compared to its surroundings, any die-hard foodie will tell you that when it comes to finding the best place to eat, never judge a book by its cover.
Cooking has always been in Chef James Roaché’s blood. His very first job was as a bus boy at a Steak and Ale in his hometown of Carrollton, Ga. However, his employer had a hard time keeping him out of the kitchen. As soon as Roaché finished cleaning tables, he would slip into the kitchen whenever he could to help with the cooking.
For the last six years, Roaché – who has worked under such notable chefs as Emeril LaGasse — has been single-handedly changing the way Jacksonians experience eating out. By single-handedly, we mean he is the chef, the bartender, the waiter, and the maître-d. Three nights a week, he treats diners to a five course meal. The menu changes weekly and usually has a theme related to a specific food or region. He refers to himself as a “McGuyver” cook, taking ordinary ingredients that one might think would never go together and turning them in to something extraordinary.
When someone makes a reservation at Ró Chez, the goal is to make them feel like they are eating at someone’s home. Guests get that vibe as soon as they walk in the door. The atmosphere – from the music playing in the background, to the mismatched furniture, to the rustic wood floors and eclectic art on the wall – is laid back and relaxed. Roaché warns that his restaurant is not for people who are looking to get in, eat, and get out in a hurry. Taking the time to relax and enjoy the food and the company of other diners is part of the experience. Every course is cooked right before it’s served and nothing is made beforehand. While Ró Chez’s does not serve alcohol, he does encourage diners to BYOB.
Back in the kitchen, things are heating up – literally. If you are lucky enough to be invited back into his kitchen, you may notice one thing is missing – the lack of conventional electric appliances. No food processors, no microwaves, not even a modern range. Roaché chops all of his ingredients by hand and does all the cooking over a 100-year old wood burning stove. Before the first diners arrive, Roaché stokes the fire in his stove by adding logs that he cut himself behind the restaurant just a few minutes earlier. On a warm evening, the wood burning stove can cause the temperature in the kitchen to get quite hot. An array of cast iron skillets in every size are stacked near the stove with a few heating up over the flames. Roaché stands at the counter and a rapid tap, tap, tap like machine gun fire sounds as he runs a knife through fresh vegetables he purchased from the farmer’s market earlier that day.
That’s something else he says you won’t see at his restaurant – a food services delivery truck. That’s because Roaché only uses local ingredients. All of his beef is sourced from a farmer in Crystal Springs. All his vegetables are locally grown. Even his butter, milk, and mushrooms come from a farmer he has formed a relationship with.
“Once a year, I spend a day at the farm of every farmer I do business with,” he explains. “I work on their farm, I get to know their practices and I see how they handle their food. I have a relationship with them.”
Diners with specific food requirements or allergies should not hesitate to make a reservation. Roaché says he is glad to adjust his menu to meet a diner’s specific needs. In addition to serving dinner, he also hosts a cooking class on the second Tuesday of every month. Ró Chez’s also hosts special events around the holidays, such as Thanksgiving dinner and private Christmas parties.
When he looks back on his career from his humble beginnings as a bus boy to the chef of his own restaurant, Roaché admits he is pretty fortunate. “I am very lucky,” he says. “This kind of restaurant has always been my dream and I am living it.”
Ró Chez Dining
204 West Jackson Street
Ridgeland, MS 39157
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday
6 p.m. and 8 p.m. seatings