Meet the Tastemakers: “Everything in moderation and focus on your health” With Chef Ryan McCaskey of Acadia

Carly Martinetti
Feb 19 · 9 min read

I wish someone had told me what I tell my young cooks now: Everything in moderation and focus on your health. When you’re young, you think you’re invincible; I certainly did. I was an athlete and no health issues had ever really hit me.I generally felt good about myself and my body and this led to excessive partying and little sleep. Of course, when I hit 40 it all came crashing down on me. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is a lifestyle disease with other related minor health issues. I’m now fighting to keep things in control and reverse those effects by the time I hit 50. I would have been healthier had I realized it’d come back to haunt me later.

I think we glamorize the dysfunctional side of the industry too much. Drugs, alcohol, and destructive behavior are rampant in the industry. I hope one day it will be ”cool” to go home after work, go to bed early, and live a healthy lifestyle.


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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?

I was always curious about food and cooking, but what truly inspired me to become a chef was spending time in my grandmother’s kitchen at an early age and helping to cook family dinners in high school. I had a knack for cooking, so I knew early on that I wanted to pursue cooking professionally.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

At Acadia, we focus on seafood and products that are in season and readily available; my exposure to seafood at an early age was something that drew me to those ingredients. I recall being in Maine and eating lobster on the beach as a guest at Goose Cove Lodge; I must’ve been 9 or 10 years old. I pretty much knew what lobster was because it was served everywhere in Maine but had no idea about clams, scallops, and mussels. At first I thought it was gross to eat them, but as I matured I learned to like, eat, and cook with them. I love them now, but it took a while for me!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

It wasn’t always easy coming up through the ranks in order to get to where I am now. I was fired a few times over my career and felt it was going to be hard for me to be a chef unless I opened my own place.

Owners complained my food was “too nice,” or that it was too much effort to produce the food I enjoyed creating. I constantly heard the “we want to take our restaurant to the next level” speech, but once the commitment to do so was realized, I found myself out of a job. There was a whole year of being unemployed and very poor. I applied for jobs at UPS, Subway, and anyone who would take me. The silver lining of that year was that I got to spend time staging in kitchens like TRU, Trio, and Hugo’s in Maine.

Finally, the former owner of Trio in Evanston, said to me, “There’s a natural progression in a chef’s life. You’ve defined the way you’ve cooked and have a distinct style. It’s probably time to do your own thing.” From that realization, I knew I had to have my own place. At that moment, the idea of Acadia as my own concept, was born.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

I try to think about flavor pairings that make sense. The true root of my culinary style is contemporary classic, which means combining elements of classic cuisine with flavors that people are familiar with. We stretch sometimes and go out of the box, but I find what attracts guests to our dishes is the familiarity of our food. I have mainstays on the menu every year that I manipulate and change in new ways. The idea is that guests can return and see how these dishes have changed and morphed over time, while the essence of the dish remains present.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

The perfect meal for me is something I’ll be chasing my whole life! While I don’t have a perfect meal in my mind, the elements I look for in a “perfect” meal are always the same: value, flavor, execution, ambiance, and service. Of course, a nice date or company always helps!

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

I’ve been cooking for a very long time (17 restaurants in 28 years), so coming up with dishes and finding inspiration is easy for me. I think about dishes I’ve eaten throughout my life, classic food pairings, courses that have stuck out to me, and even dishes I’ve created in the past. A lot of the way I cook is reinventing dishes I’ve created throughout my career and finding new ways to look at them.

I’m at my most creative just after I’ve woken up; I’d say 80% of new menus items come to me at that time. My brain is very active and in a creative mode but I’m calm and relaxed enough to let ideas rush in.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

This is a loaded question! I’m always creating new ideas, concepts, and projects; I have no shortage of ideas. I’m very much a concept guy. I always have a vision for the project, the look of the space, and the know-how to make that come together; of course, there are many steps in between.

My newest and most exciting project, right now, has been the Maine concept Acadia House Provisions. The seasonal restaurant has opened to great response and the impact it is having is amazing to see. The area has seen a boost in overall tourism, the best in the last 10 years, and we’ve been told that our restaurant alone has really impacted the area. We’re quite proud of that.

What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

The advice I constantly give young cooks these days is this: be humble. Put your head down and cook. Have confidence in your own ability and have faith that you’ll persevere and reach your goals. Half ass-ing it and taking shortcuts comes with its own transparency. Owners and employers will see right through it and failure is imminent if you don’t have the right tools to succeed.

Being a chef is much more than cooking, coming up with dishes, and writing recipes. It’s about managing people, creating a narrative, being competitive, learning to market yourself, being fiscally responsible, and understanding the organic nature of restaurants.

Lastly, I tell my staff that though restaurants can be a constant push, we must also find balance in our lives. I constantly remind my staff to get enough sleep, spend time with family and loved ones, and give yourself alone time. All of these things are important to avoid burnout in the industry.

Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why?

1.If you are serious about becoming a great chef, work on those skills early in your career and make that a priority. Don’t rush the process and learn the right tools to equip yourself for success.

2. No one told me that financial success in the restaurant industry is less common than you think. Profit margins are slim, traffic can be unpredictable, and overhead can be outrageous. The hardest part of running a restaurant is making money. From the public’s perception, “success” seems easy and many are quick to conflate accolades and press with financial success\. Behind the scenes, many of these places don’t make a cent.

Many restaurants are a passion project for so many chefs and restaurateurs. Yeah, you might have received three Michelin stars, but the restaurant didn’t make any money and ultimately had to close. I’ve always said, if the restaurant is only around for a few years and couldn’t make a dime, then what’s the point? The true legacy is time and the imprint you leave on the restaurant folklore.

3. I wish someone had said, “you won’t make any real money.” It’s something I think about all the time. In restaurants professional chefs do not make a handsome salary and financial stability is important to having a balanced life. Being a chef is a labor of love and you have to be in it for more than the money, so make sure you are making responsible financial decisions.

4. I wish someone had told me what I tell my young cooks now: Everything in moderation and focus on your health. When you’re young, you think you’re invincible; I certainly did. I was an athlete and no health issues had ever really hit me.I generally felt good about myself and my body and this led to excessive partying and little sleep. Of course, when I hit 40 it all came crashing down on me. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is a lifestyle disease with other related minor health issues. I’m now fighting to keep things in control and reverse those effects by the time I hit 50. I would have been healthier had I realized it’d come back to haunt me later.

I think we glamorize the dysfunctional side of the industry too much. Drugs, alcohol, and destructive behavior are rampant in the industry. I hope one day it will be ”cool” to go home after work, go to bed early, and live a healthy lifestyle.

5. Work on personal relationships and spend time with family and loved ones. This is something I really took for granted. I was always working and didn’t invest much time in relationships or take them seriously. I always thought they’d just “be there.” Now I wish I could go back and spend more time with my grandparents, my pets, and dedicate more time to current relationships and my family. There comes a point where those things become more important than work.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

I guess anything lobster! Maybe it’s because of our ties with Maine but our evolving dishes that focus on lobster are almost always the most satisfying to our guests.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I wish I could influence the culture of restaurants. Dramatizations of restaurant life in the media glamorize the culture of booze, partying, promiscuity, and late nights. Even having cuts and burn scars is supposed to be cool now, I guess! The pirate mentality is ruining young cooks to a degree. I wish it was enough to just be a great cook with a wealth of knowledge, sharp technical skills, and a resume that some of the greats would be proud of! Maybe I’m over it.

Mental health is also something that’s taking a toll on our industry. The destructive cocktail of drinking, sex, drugs, partying, and lack of sleep all play into an unhealthy state of mind. I wish I could be the Yoda to young cooks and guide them on a good path. I’d love if we could get back to doing things the right way without such a destructive lifestyle.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Carly Martinetti

Written by

2x pet tech founder, publicist, writer, and dog mom. I love learning about what makes CEOs tick.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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