Chef Ryan Durant of Branford's Assaggio Competes For Food Network's "Sexiest Chef Alive"

James Gribbon

Ryan Durant, owner and executive chef of Assaggio in Branford, has been picked to compete for the title of "Sexiest Chef Alive" on the People Magazine/Food Network joint venture show by the same name, airing November 1st. CTBites spoke with chef Durant about the experience.

How did you get involved with the show?

People magazine randomly called me, one of the servers picked up the phone and they said it was something with the magazine's sexiest man issue. It had to do with a cooking segment I did on "Better Connecticut" with Scot Haney three years ago. He said something about me being married, but I wasn't then, and it went viral. Somehow People saw it and they called me. This one is a one-off, one hour show, and it's basically a "day in the life" kind of thing.

What's your history as a chef, and how did you come to open Assagio?

I started working all kind of restaurant jobs: bussing, barbacking, dishes, all that, around the Prospect/Waterbury area where I grew up. After that, I had the opportunity to be partner at Assaggio before I bought out my partner, and I've been the owner for ten years. It was open before I got here so I didn't name the restaurant or choose what we served at first. The show actually has good timing because we're changing the menu over completely in November, and following up with an updated interior space thanks to my wife, Gil, who is a designer. 

My philosophy is we approach Italian cooking less as a recipe book and more as a way of doing things, focus on regional specialties. We don't import Italian ingredients and just make them the way they "should" be made, but focus more on using local products in a seasonal way with Italian dishes, and a real eye on the wine, which is important to me. The idea is to make menu items more exclusive instead of just our take on common food. Everyone's a foodie now so we're dealing with a more knowledgeable customer base, much more so than when Assaggio opened 17 years ago, before I got here.

What can you tell us about making the show so far?

It was one ten hour day with a bunch of interviews and cooking segments. It took a while to get used to the cameras and hot mics. I didn't know when it was going to happen exactly, so the camera crew actually popped up in Branford when I was getting a haircut. I was much more comfortable at the segments in the restaurant. My wife, Gil, is in the episode when I made one of first dishes I ever made for her. We cooked that one at home. The interviews were fun because I got to talk more about my food philosophy and things I care about.

Did you ever see yourself being in the running for a title like "sexiest chef"?

I was skeptical at first and didn't think I wanted to be a part of it at all, but I looked into it and saw past chefs like Anthony Bourdain had been on the list, and it was people with chef's awards and cooking shows, and I thought I'd be in on it.

See Ryan on "People Magazine: Sexiest Chef Alive" on November 1st at 8p.m. the Food Network.