In The Restaurants

Lettuce Life: A Glimpse Into the Lettuce Entertain You Test Kitchen with Chef and Partner Rita Dever

Lettuce Life: A Glimpse Into the Lettuce Entertain You Test Kitchen with Chef and Partner Rita Dever

Mar 13, 2019

People always ask us, “Where do all of the new restaurant and dish ideas come from?” Meet Lettuce Entertain You’s corporate chef and partner Rita Dever, who has been the woman behind it all, running the test kitchen and conducting tastings for LEYE founder Rich Melman and our partners for more than 15 years. The LEYE test kitchen is the place where new recipes are created and restaurant concepts are born.

Chef Rita Dever in LEYE test kitchen

Rich’s motto is: “It always starts with the food,” and that’s why the test kitchens’ purpose is development and support for the restaurants.

“When Rita first cooked for me, I was blown away by the taste of her food and 15 years later, she’s still knocking it out of the park,” said Rich Melman. “After all these years, we still work well together and have a lot of fun in the test kitchen.”

Chef Rita and her team do daily tastings; some are formal and some are more impromptu, but they always have a clear focus.

LEYE Found Rich Melman and President R.J. Melman Doing a Tasting in the Test Kitchen
LEYE Founder Rich Melman and President R.J. Melman doing a tasting in the test kitchen

“We work towards a concept idea or to improve a specific recipe or dish,” says Chef Rita.“Rich can see a concept before we can see a concept. Whether he has us testing recipes for bao or Mediterranean spreads, we do a lot of research before putting out dishes for a tasting.”

Chef Rita doing a tasting with partners in the kitchen

Chef Rita is not tackling these tasks on her own. From chef consultants, chef partners, restaurant chefs, and visiting chefs – the test kitchen sees a lot of action and collaboration. She estimates more than 30 chefs per year come to work in the LEYE test kitchen. These chefs come to us in many different ways: via recruiters, friends of our chefs and partners, even chefs from restaurants employees have eaten at during their travels.

Chef Rita and Corporate Chef Ash in the Test Kitchen
Chef Rita and Corporate Chef Ash in the Test Kitchen

“I have one to three chefs in the test kitchen every day working with me. These chefs all come with different talents that we learn from. For example, I love cooking vegetables so we recently brought in Chef Ash Ghassemzadeh, a chef from Los Angeles who is passionate about cooking meats.”

Looking into the test kitchen at LEYE

Working as a corporate chef in the test kitchen differs from working on the line in a restaurant.

“Being a corporate chef vs. a restaurant chef has its differences,” says Chef Rita. “What I love most about this job is that every day we are working on something new. It pushes me creatively and I am constantly reading, researching, talking to LEYE employees about what and where they are eating, but a big part of our success comes from the outside chefs we bring in.”

Chef Rita is perhaps one of the most influential chefs in Chicago you haven’t read about. Because if you’ve dined at a LEYE restaurant, chances are you’ve tasted one of her dishes. From creating recipes with the Beatrix chef team to perfecting the famous Pulled Chicken Nachos at Hub 51, she’s had a hand in the creation of more than 30 restaurant concepts.

Chef Rita doing a tasting in the Test Kitchen

For a dish to make it from the test kitchen to a menu, often times its developed, changed, tasted, tweaked again and then finally, when the chef team feels it’s ready, the dish will land on your table. Take the Oh My! Caramel Pie at Beatrix for example.

“When you think of pie crust, you think rolled pie dough, but I know that Rich has an affinity for crumb pie crust. We were developing the Oh My! Caramel Pie for Beatrix, which has a liquid filling. Needless to say, it’s challenging to successfully make a pie with a liquid filling and crumb crust without creating pure culinary chaos.”

Beatrix Whole Caramel Pie

We asked Chef Rita what is the dish she’s most proud of lately?

straight a salad from beatrix

“The Straight A Salad at Beatrix which was a result of my love for arugula and almonds, The Roasted Cauliflower, Caper and Currant Salad and the Cauliflower Grits. We are close to finalizing a new Superfoods Smoothie that will be on the menu at the new Beatrix Oak Brook!”

Chef Rita holding the smoothie

And still, to this day, we are always trying to nail the perfect fudge recipe.
“The Holy Grail in the test kitchen is fudge. Rich has asked more than 20 chefs to perfect chocolate fudge. He has a very specific idea of what it should taste like. He envisions it to be just like the hot chocolate sauce from the Pump Room that he loved so much. We just haven’t nailed it. He tells us:“That’s close but not quite, keep trying!”

“Secretly, I think he just really likes fudge.”

Read about the wonderful women behind some of our most famous pastries.

Want more behind the scenes of life at Lettuce? Follow us @LettuceLife on Instagram for exclusive job postings, behind-the-scenes of restaurant openings, events and more.

Click here to learn more about Pastry Chef and Partner Yasmin Gutierrez.


You May Also Like...

In The Restaurants
Lettuce Life: A Glimpse Into the Lettuce Entertain You Test Kitchen with Chef and Partner Rita Dever
Mar 13, 2019

People always ask us, “Where do all of the new restaurant and dish ideas come from?” Meet…

read more >

Recent Posts

In The Restaurants
Drink For A Cause: RPM Teams Up With Mercy Home for Boys & Girls
Mar 21, 2019

Looking for a way to give back to the Chicago community? Stop into RPM Italian (Chicago) and RPM…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Easter 2019: Metro D.C. Area
Mar 20, 2019

Celebrate Easter on Sunday, April 21 at one of our Metro D.C. Area restaurants! Click here to see…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Easter 2019: Las Vegas
Mar 20, 2019

Celebrate Easter on Sunday, April 21 at one of our Las Vegas restaurants! Enjoy a holiday brunch on…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Easter 2019: Los Angeles
Mar 20, 2019

Celebrate Easter on Sunday, April 21 with brunch offerings from Stella Barra Pizzeria in Hollywood…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Easter 2019: Chicago
Mar 20, 2019

Celebrate Easter on Sunday, April 21 at one of our Chicagoland restaurants. Enjoy Easter brunch with…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Easter 2019: Twin Cities
Mar 20, 2019

Celebrate Easter in the Twin Cities on Sunday, April 21 at Wildfire - Eden Prairie! Check out their…

read more >
In The Restaurants
5 Things to Know About Sushi-San’s Omakaze Experience
Mar 19, 2019

One of Chicago's most unique omakase experiences is Sushi-San's aptly named omaKAZE, where guests…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Milkshake Madness: A Tournament of Toppings
Mar 19, 2019

In the grand tournament of milkshake toppings, who are the last sweets standing? We rounded up all…

read more >
In The Restaurants
5 Reasons to Say “I Do” at The Dalcy
Mar 18, 2019

The holiday season is filled with family time, friends, too much food and engagements! Dubbed the…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Your Weekly Bub City Calendar! Spoiler Alert: There’s A $5 Deal Every Night
Mar 18, 2019

We're here to make sure you never miss a beat and also help you plan your social calendar around…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Rise & Shine: The Best Way to Breakfast During the Week
Mar 18, 2019

Early risers rejoice! We've rounded up all of our weekday breakfast specialties that will keep you…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Add This to Your To Do List: A New Weekday Lunch Menu at Stella Barra Santa Monica
Mar 18, 2019

Hey L.A., are you sick of the same old salads and fast food for lunch? We hear you. That's why…

read more >
Lettuce Consulting Group

Grow Your Business

Learn More
Career Opportunities

Join Our Team

Search Jobs
Latest Articles

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign Up Now