Chef Q&A: A New Moon

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RYAN WHYTE-BUCK // Chef, Folklore

Written by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY
Photography by MICHAEL SCHALK

HIS RESUME is all over the map — literally. Before leaving school in 2007 to pursue his career in the kitchen, the former black metal musician studied accounting and environmental studies. Since then, Chef Ryan Whyte-Buck has had a hand in opening restaurants around the world, from the West Coast to New York City to Taiwan and Qatar. Since landing in Savannah, his take on global flavors has been exclusive to guests at Bellwether House, the luxury bed and breakfast located on Gaston Street — until now. 

The latest endeavor from the same team (who also own Mirabelle Savannah), Folklore is now open for dinner and brunch at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Congress Street.

Here, Whyte-Buck shares the catalyst behind the new venture, what family time means to him and his go-to recipe to make for a memorable meal at home. 

Chef Ryan Whyte-Buck’s Kalbi Ribs (recipe below)

ON THE OPENING OF FOLKLORE

We were getting such good feedback on the cuisine at the Bellwether House that we decided to pursue a restaurant space. When The Fat Radish announced their withdrawal from Savannah, we knew we had a great option on our hands. 

Folklore will be, at its heart, Southern cuisine — but I also wanted to include some influences and flavors from East Asia, which is my favorite place to eat and travel. The interior design was inspired by the moon, a focal point of many of humanity’s myths and legends. Guests will notice spherical pendants and sconces, as well as a glimmer and glow from ubiquitous brass finishings. My wife, Sofie, painted four pieces for the restaurant illustrating legends of the Jade Rabbit and Chang’e — two prominent figures of East Asia’s lunar mythology.    

Savannah is lucky to be part of a rich tradition of Southern cooking that stretches the entirety of the Lowcountry. This city benefits from having cuisine that has been passed down without disruption for hundreds of years. People are born and raised with food, and those traditions are established and respected. I find Savannah’s greatest strength to be its sheer dedication to good service, friendship and kindness. I have felt so welcomed and cared for in this city.

ON HIS ROOTS

When I tell people I’m from Southern California and worked in Portland, Oregon, and New York City, they always assume I’m from Los Angeles. Folks are usually surprised to find out I’m actually from a tiny ranch town and my best friends as a kid were my dog and a horse that lived in the field behind my dad’s house. 

ON LESSONS LEARNED

I’m of the belief that every experience in life can teach you something. Any interaction with someone else can leave you with a new perspective shaped by their experiences. My grandparents inspired me to build strong bonds with those around me by feeding and teaching. Music contributed to my career in the form of honing creative expression and working towards something bigger with the help of others. My experiences in higher education taught me that you can’t just wing it; you really have to put in the work to know what you’re doing and actually follow through with it. 

“Savannah has some of the most beautiful skies I have ever seen, and I relish being out on my patio grilling and sipping a homebrewed beer while the sun sets.”

ON HIS PROUDEST PLATES

I’m proud of a lot in my career: from my first real opening with James Beard Award winners, Greg and Gabi Denton’s Ox Restaurant [in Portland], to opening the small, all-day cafe Golda [in Brooklyn] two days after my first child was born. The culinary moment I’m most proud of will always be my first date with my wife. We went camping out at Bagby Hot Springs in Oregon, and I cooked a big dinner over the campfire. She says that dinner proved that I was worth a second date. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, and, if what she says is true, it was the most important moment in my life. 

ON DAD TIME

In my time off, my family and I love to take in the coast’s natural beauty and spend time with friends. We can usually be found on Tybee Island, Oatland Island or at the Skidaway and Whitemarsh preserves. Special weekends will find us exploring some of the region’s local delights from dockside restaurants to the south or secluded cabins in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

ON HOME COOKING 

While we use every technique under the sun in my professional kitchens, at home, I just love to grill. Savannah has some of the most beautiful skies I have ever seen, and I relish being out on my patio grilling and sipping a homebrewed beer while the sun sets. When I say I like to grill, I mean I really like to grill. Something about being outdoors, the smell of char and smoke, awakens something in my mind: some primal, ancient satisfaction that all will be right in the world for another day. 


KALBI RIBS

Shared by Chef Ryan Whyte-Buck of Folklore

“This dish is a special treat for my family and me. I can’t always find them, and I can’t always afford them. But when times call for celebrating, we’ll go out of our way for this special preparation. Kalbi ribs are beef short ribs, cut thinly against the bone, marinated with this simple and delicious marinade and cooked with high heat. The meat is fatty and tender with a teensy, chewy bit around the rib bone (my favorite part) and goes great with grilled bok choy or Chinese broccoli, fresh kimchi and potato salad or rice.”

TIP
Find the ribs at one of Savannah’s many local butcher shops. Chef Whyte-Buck sources his Asian produce from Chinatown Market on the corner of Price and Henry streets.

THE MARINADE: (4-5 pounds of ribs)

1 head of garlic, peeled
1 bunch of green onions, with ends trimmed off 
1 c. soy sauce
1¼ c. brown sugar

2 Asian pears, peeled and cored (substitute Gala apples if needed)
1 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola
2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Marinate the ribs for at least 4 hours. Get your grill up to medium-high heat or make a bed of coals around 1½ inches thick. Cook the ribs on each side until caramelized and beginning to char. When ribs look deliciously grilled, set them off to the edge of the grill to stay hot and continue to render that little chewy bit around the bone. Season your vegetables of choice with a little salt and grill them to your preferred doneness. Garnish the ribs and veggies with thinly sliced green onions and toasted sesame seeds. Serve your grilled bounty with rice or potato salad, sliced radishes and fresh kimchi or pickled peppers.