After high school, Bryan Forcina wanted to become a firefighter. His tiny Italian grandmother, however, knew his true calling was cooking. She was right. Forcina graduated from the California Culinary Academy and had worked at several fine-dining establishments in the area before moving with his wife and four kids to Meridian to open the new upscale pub chain Yard House in The Village at Meridian. It was there Forcina got another kind of call: one from high-end steak restaurant chain Ruth's Chris, which wanted the 36-year-old California native to become executive chef at its first—and so far only—Idaho location in downtown Boise's Eighth & Main Tower. Now instead of fighting fires, Forcina stokes them in custom-made grills in a spotless state-of-the-art kitchen where he oversees the food—particularly the steak—that has made Ruth's Chris legendary.
Did you leave culinary school thinking you'd immediately become head chef at a fine restaurant?
No. I feel like I have a decent grip on reality and how things work. My dad instilled a lot of common sense in me. ... I did, though, get a job at the Plumed Horse [outside of Palo Alto, Calif.]. It was very high-end. I had five private dining rooms—the biggest one could hold 200 people. The very first thing I had to do was clean these micro calamari. They still had their beaks and the tiny piece of cellophane in the body. There were 2,000 of them. It took me two whole days, two whole eight-hour shifts.
You've been executive chef at Ruth's Chris since February. Does it still feel shiny and new?
It's my job to keep it shiny. But I also want to keep it fun. We have a Chef's Feature page at the front of the menu, where we can change items in and out with the seasons. We always have our core items: There's always going to be a filet at Ruth's Chris, there's always going to be ribeye, but we can have some fun and play with that Chef's Feature page.
Being a franchise, there are things you don't have to manage but you also have some autonomy, right?
Of course. We did the Chef's Affaire [in October], and my chef team won the Best Course of the night. My live auction item was dinner for six people and it went for $6,000. We raised $6,000 for the Idaho Foodbank.
What was the course that won?
It was an '80s-themed event, so we did a pina colada scallop: grilled pineapple coulis, coconut purple sticky rice, roasted asparagus with dried chile powder for smokiness, seared scallop with dried huckleberry, orange tobiko and toasted coconut.
Did the Chef's Affair give you a sense of community?
Totally. I was telling our general manager Don [Leader] that Boise is so about local, we can't even win a Best of Boise award because we're a franchise, but the other chefs don't care about that. Everybody was awesome, people were helping each other on every single course. The general sense that people are really happy to have us here. We all live here, we employ people who live here, we employ people who have only ever lived here, and it doesn't make me feel great that we can't be in a competition for locals.
Do you source any items locally?
We get everything we can locally ... for example, we get our bread from Gaston's Bakery.
Where do you get to be creative?
Things like the Chef's Affair. And I make the family meal every night for everybody—we don't call each other "team members." We treat people more like family. Every day at 3:45 p.m., servers come in, everybody gets their dinner, we all sit in the bar and go over the night: what's working, what's not, how many reservations, how many birthdays and anniversaries.
There's a perception that Ruth's Chris is too expensive.
People who don't know who we are, think they can't afford us. We have a prime-time menu: three courses for $49. You get to choose your salad, your entree, your sides and your dessert. It's $49 for an experience—in this beautiful setting with our service, which is polished beyond belief, and the food. You're not going to get this steak somewhere else. You just can't.
What's your favorite Ruth's Chris menu item?
My favorite appetizer is the seared scallops.
What's your favorite thing to cook?
The steaks. It's all about the steaks.
Are you married? Do you have kids?
My wife and I have been married 10 years and have four kids, ages 9, 8, 6 and 3. My last name is Forcina, so we gave them the most Italian-sounding names we could: Annabella Sophia, Giovanni Valentino, Leonardo Marcello and Adriana Emilia. They're going to hate me when they have to start filling out [bubble forms] for tests. Other kids will be finished, and they'll still be filling the bubbles with their name.
Had you lived outside of California before you moved to the Treasure Valley?
I was helping a friend open a restaurant in Palo Alto. ... I saved up about $10,000 and moved to [Europe] for eight months. I got off the plane in Milan, and lived as far east as Budapest, as far north as Copenhagen and everywhere to the west and the south.
What's one experience or idea you brought back with you from that trip?
That no one is the same and you better check yourself and how you interact with people because you have no idea what's going on in their sphere. You can't judge people. I was in the city of Bordeaux [France] and I asked this little old lady where this office was. She turns around and walks me 16 blocks, right to the office.
Sounds like that trip may have served you well working in a business that is not only about food but about customer service...
Hospitality. I'm more about hospitality than customer service. I want to do more than just service. I want to take care of you. I'm not going to point out the bathroom to you. I'm going to walk you to it.
Even if it's 16 blocks?
Yes. I don't care. I'll do it.