Chef Spotlight – Chef Michael Rigot

Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Chef Michael Rigot’s passion for the culinary field is all in the family.  Shadowing his mother and grandmother in the kitchen as a child, he grew up learning to make traditional Polish and Czech dishes including pierogis (potato dumplings) and galumpkis (stuffed cabbage).  Chef Michael grew to love spending time in the kitchen because he was able to create meals to share with family and make people happy through food.

While attending high school, Chef Michael worked in kitchens and loved the adrenaline it gave him after he was sidelined with a football injury.  Time went on and several years after graduating from high school, Chef Michael was balancing jobs as both a bouncer and a sous chef.  Randall White, his mentor at the time and still to this day, finally gave Chef Michael an ultimatum.  He had to choose to go to school for cooking or he was going to fire him.  Chef Michael promptly chose the school option and went on to attend the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute.

Chef Michael Rigot

Chef Michael Rigot

While attending PCI, Chef Michael also worked full time at an Italian restaurant.  This family-run restaurant is where he credits his growth and understanding of responsibility from the Grandmother who ran the kitchen.  After graduating, Chef Michael garnered experience and prestige from Ohio on down to New Orleans, Louisiana.  From fine dining and resort style cooking to serving as a banquet chef in a large operation, Chef Michael was able to experience a variety of food service establishments and see what he wanted to achieve in his career, both personally and professionally.  When he worked at the Westin Birmingham in a convention center style setting, Chef Michael was able to finally achieve the work-life balance he longed for.  It was here where he also earned the prestigious Chef of the Year Award by the Alabama Hospitality Association.

Ready to rise to a new challenge, Chef Michael was drawn to the allure of Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen in Raleigh.  Arriving in 2013, he was given the opportunity to start fresh and completely gut the formerly Italian menu.  He has been able to incorporate some out-of-the-box menu items while building Rye up to be the Southern sensation it is today.

Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen - Smoked Chicken, Pickled Veggies, Fried Oysters

Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen – Smoked Chicken, Pickled Veggies, Fried Oysters

Rye’s menu currently changes biannually, with spring being paired with summer and fall with winter.  Each menu features food and beverage options that are influenced by the produce available here in North Carolina and the items produced from Rye’s rooftop garden and beehive.  Their incredibly tender, juicy and perfectly smoked meats are all smoked in-house.  Their spice rubs are deeply complex, yet familiar so as not to scare off barbeque traditionalists.  Chef Michael has made a deliberate attempt at creating their menu to include items that “are familiar, but get the diners thinking.  We want them to get excited and talk and share their experience with others.”

It’s all in the details with Chef Michael and his team.  Starting on a large scale of sourcing their protein from across North Carolina down to buying local produce from Raleigh City Farms and finally, growing other needed items in their rooftop garden and cultivating honey from their beehive, Rye is changing up the restaurant scene.  Chef Michael and his team have made solid steps towards proving they are a seriously great restaurant and they just so happen to be in the lobby of a hotel.

Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen - Cranberry Orange Champagne

Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen – Cranberry Orange Champagne

Chef Michael hopes patrons of Rye will “recognize the traditional Southern offerings, but think about it differently.  We want them to experience it and think about it in a new light.”  Plans are on the horizon to incorporate more elements of Raleigh’s regional cuisine into Rye’s menu.  Chef Michael’s big project includes an eventual charcuterie program where they can create products to “utilize all parts of an animal” to celebrate and appreciate the animal as a whole.  He is also working with the local brewery, Crank Arm, to develop a fall beer to be featured on the menu.  As it is named Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen, there are also constant developments in the creation of whiskey flights to specifically pair with certain menu items.  The creativity of Chef Michael and his staff are endless, evidenced by their ever-popular “meat and three” lunch option.  Anna Shafritz, one of the sous chefs from Rye, leads the charge on creating these daily specials and switching them up weekly.  Chef Michael is clear in stating that along with Anna, sous chefs Ryan Lawton, Waitus Leake and their staff are all integral members in the restaurant running as well as it does.

Rye Bar and Southern Kitchen - Meat and Three

Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen – Meat and Three

Chef Michael also gave great thought in how to redesign Rye’s dining room to encapsulate the modern Southern feel.  The rocking chairs, he says, are a nod to his Tennessee roots, but to also show people they can still slow down to enjoy a meal in the busy world we live in today.  Chef Michael wants diners to feel at home when coming in to partake in a Southern meal with no shortcuts taken to deliver an amazing, comfortable experience.

Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @ChefTessaRD.

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