Top chef's path to DC restaurant success

WASHINGTON -- One of the most respected restaurateurs in the District stumbled into cooking by accident.

Ris Lacoste, owner of Ris on L Street in Northwest, traces her interest in food to her first job at a grocery store, then as a waitress and a short order cook.

"I knew what everybody ate, what everybody drank. I had their coffee waiting for them before they got to their seats. I loved it, absolutely loved it," said Lacoste.

The failed pre-med student eventually went to Paris looking for an au pair job.

As fate would have it, she landed a job as a typist at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine, where she took cooking classes.

"The right time and the right place, you know. I didn't plan that. It was just something that happened," Lacoste said.

That would set her on a path toward a successful and demanding career.

A player in the D.C. restaurant scene for more than 20 years, the chef has helped open several hot restaurants, including 1789 Restaurant.

She has won awards and appeared on popular TV cooking shows, but her big goal was to open a restaurant on her own.

"I was turning 50 and I said, you know, if this is a young man's job, I need to do it now or never, so I jumped off the cliff with no plans and this was the result," said Lacoste.

She said what she loves most about cooking is being in the moment. It gives her a creative outlet to express her passion.

"That passion and that love, it sounds wacky, but it's transferred into that food and customers feel that love," Lacoste said.

Ris is participating in D.C.'s Restaurant Week, which runs August 17 to 23.