Chef Frank A. Ruta began cooking alongside his mother and grandmother early in life.
Frank began formal training at the American Culinary Federation's Pittsburgh chapter. After graduating second in his class in 1978, he apprenticed at the Lemon Tree Restaurant in McKeesport, PA. His first formal position was sauce cook at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh. After one year, Frank became a chef at Lincoln Hills Country Club in Irwin, Pennsylvania.
The White House hired Frank as assistant chef in 1979. By 1982, Frank had progressed to the dual positions of personal lunch and dinner chef to the Reagan and Bush families and executive Sous Chef.
Frank resigned at The White House in 1987 to accept a chef position at Andrea restaurant, a two-star Michelin restaurant, in Merano, Italy where he studied under Andreus Helrigl for 18 months.
At the personal request of Nancy Reagan, Frank returned to the White House in 1988 as executive Sous Chef. He stayed through the remainder of the Reagan administration and 15 months into the Bush presidency.
In 1991, Frank moved on to the world-renowned Le Pavillon, as Sous Chef, under Yannick Cam. Upon the closing of Le Pavillon, Frank took the grill chef position at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Arlington, Virginia, for one year before teaming up with Cam again at Yannick's in Alexandria, Virginia.
Eighteen months later, Frank joined the Capital Management Group to take his first executive chef position at The River Club, an upscale supper-club, in Georgetown. The restaurant quickly became known for serious fine-dining, and was Frank's first opportunity to introduce his own menus.
Palena opened in 2000. Since it's opening, Palena has consistently earned rave reviews and ratings from critics and diners alike. Palena continues to grow, and a major expansion, new kitchen and Market are slated to open in August 2010.
Accolades Frank has received over the years include:
Best Chef Food and Wine Magazine 2001
Restaurateurs of the Year Washingtonian Magazine 2002
(Along with Ann Amernick, then co-owner and pastry chef)
Chef of the Year The Washington City Paper 2007
Best Chef Mid-Atlantic James Beard Foundation 2007
Pastry chef Aggie Chin has taken a non-traditional path to success.
Although she always enjoyed cooking as a child with her mother and grandmother, Aggie considered it a hobby, and when the time came to choose a profession, Aggie picked law. She got her bachelor's degree from UVA and landed a job as a legal assistant at a law firm with plans to attend law school, but Aggie dreamed of a career writing about and photographing her favorite subject: food.
Aggie learned if she wanted to go to culinary school, she would need at least six months’ experience in a professional kitchen, so she began working as a line cook at Mendocino Grille & Wine Bar in Georgetown part-time while working at the law firm. With no professional experience and only her love of food and cooking from which to draw, Aggie was put to work on the slow nights at the salad station. Early on, Aggie would bring in offerings of cakes and cookies she baked at home to give to the chefs as an incentive to forgive her youthful mistakes and allow her to stay. It worked. Aggie learned quickly, and, seeing her potential, the chefs steered her away from her original interest – the savory side of cooking – toward pastry.
When Aggie’s chef left Mendocino, she too, moved on, taking a position at Eventide in Arlington before deciding to start culinary school. With barely time to stop and change her apron, Aggie rushed every day from her afternoon classes to her evening job in production at the restaurant. After finishing her courses, Aggie did a six-month externship at Hook in D.C. while continuing to work at Eventide at night. Confident at this point that she could compete with any brain surgeon for number of hours spent honing her craft per week, Aggie was ready for a full-time pastry chef position.
Since few independent restaurants have the luxury of being able to hire a pastry chef, Aggie considers herself lucky to have found a jewel like Palena. Here, Executive Chef Frank Ruta gives Aggie a free hand in developing the dessert menu, tasting her creations and offering feedback over her three-year tenure. With the opening of Palena’s new coffee shop, Aggie and her team now have to ability to experiment with and execute the traditional pastries and baked goods as well as continuing to create the plated desserts for the Café and Dining Room.