Southern native turned California transplant, Ryder Zetts is heading back to his roots as executive chef of the highly anticipated the Optimist, Star Rover Sound and Le Loup in Nashville, Tenn. Zetts shares chef-owner Ford Fry’s passion for real, no-frills cookery and wood-grilled technique and is excited to incorporate that into the Music City’s new coastal haunt. Driven by sustainable practices and seasonality, Zetts is forging together his west-coast experiences and love of southern bounty through high-quality, locally sourced ingredients for an extraordinary culinary experience.
Zetts began his restaurant career at the age of 14, a a dishwasher at a retirement community. He credits the kitchen’s chef for taking him under his wing and mentoring him, which ultimately led him to apply to and attend culinary school.
He earned degrees in both hospitality & management at Chesterfield Technical and the Culinary Institute of America, respectively, before embarking on his path to work under Chef Patrick O’Connell at the two Michelin star and AAA Five Diamond–rated establishment The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia. Under O’Connell, Zetts learned first-hand how to create memorable experiences through service and hospitality, in addition to preparing first-rate cuisine. He recalls, “Patrick taught me about the theatrics of dining and importance of service to make guests feel special.”
Zetts honed his culinary skills at Thomas Keller’s Michelin star Bouchon in Yountville, Calif., before diving into the renowned Solage Resort in Calistoga, Calif., as chef de cuisine at the on-site Michelin star-rated Solbar restaurant where he was also responsible for providing food to other parts of the hotel including the spa cuisine, pool area and room service. He mastered the multi-faceted aspect of working with numerous avenues simultaneously and explains, “Having worked with many outlets at once definitely gave me the foundation to run multiple concepts in Nashville.”
Remaining on the west coast, he joined Archetype in St. Helena, Calif., as executive chef. During his tenure, Zetts cultivated a favorite restaurant among tourists and locals and was awarded two and a half stars from the San Francisco Chronicle. Making the small leap to owner-partner, Zetts joined chef and owner of Cook St. Helena, Jude Wilmoth where he sharpened his operational skills and enjoyed the family atmosphere. While on a getaway to Nashville for a Titans game, Zetts fell in love with the city. “The music, food, weather and energy” brought him back to the east coast. When asked about moving back down south and joining the Ford Fry family he calls it “an exciting adventure.”
He finds immense reward in cultivating someone from a dishwasher to a chef, as it harkens back to his own journey and inspiration. Zetts excels at creating environments that bring people together and work toward a common goal and is thrilled to be joining forces with Ford Fry Restaurants and helping develop extraordinary concepts and experiences.
When Zetts is not in kitchen creating inspired seasonal dishes, he’s spending time with his wife and three kids, experiencing different cultures and culinary specialties, especially anything cooked over wood fire. Zetts is also a First Level Sommelier and Green Bay Packers stockholder, with a passion for gardening and harvesting his fruit and vegetable rewards.