How Ryan Ratino of DC’s two-MICHELIN-starred Jônt is building a national restaurant empire

Credit: Ruben Cabrera
The DC chef Ryan Ratino Standing standing at a marble counter in his kitchen at the restaurant MAASS in Fort Lauderdale

Ryan Ratino’s love for food can be traced back to his childhood kitchen. “My mother is the reason I started cooking,” the 33-year-old prolific DC-based chef and restaurateur says.

Since launching MICHELIN-starred Bresca in 2017 and two-MICHELIN-starred Jônt in 2020 in DC, Ratino has emerged as one of the country’s most exciting chefs.

Dishes like dry-aged duck a la presse and Hokkaido king crab donabe rice have become synonymous with him and his restaurants—and it’s why Washingtonians keep going back. 

Ratino’s acclaimed restaurants have also set him on a course for major national recognition. In the years since his DC openings, his rapidly expanding restaurant group, Hive Hospitality, has opened restaurants in Florida and is soon to open more in Los Angeles. 

Read on for how Ratino got his start, why his restaurants remain as popular as ever, and where his burgeoning restaurant empire is going next.

From Emeril to MICHELIN

Dishes like this dry-aged duck have become synonymous with Ratino’s cooking. | Credit: Rey Lopez

Growing up in a modest Midwestern household in Medina, Ohio, family dinners were central to Ratino’s life. Crockpot meals and one-pan dishes like hamburger helper were staples, unfussy options his mom could quickly put together after rushing home from work.

Ratino wanted to take some of the pressure off his mom and turned to legendary chef Emeril Lagasse for help. “I’d recreate some of the food that he would do on his seven o’clock slot on TV [on the Food Network],” Ratino says. 

His mom saw a spark and pushed him to enroll in cooking school. When he started at Orlando’s Le Cordon Bleu in 2009, he was the first person in his family to attend college—that proved to be just the beginning of a stellar career.

Stints at acclaimed spots like wd~50 followed. “I still have my book that I carry around from when I started at wd~50,” Ratino says of his time at Wylie Dufresne’s trailblazing NYC molecular gastronomy restaurant. “I still reference all the base recipes, hydrocolloid combinations, and drawings of chemical compounds—it adds creativity and dimension to my cooking.”

Joining the big leagues

Ratino’s big break came when he became the executive chef at the seasonal DC restaurant Ripple in 2016. His cooking quickly got local acclaim and he won the coveted RAMMY rising star of the year award. 

When Ripple closed in 2017, Ratino decided to branch out on his own with Bresca. “We wanted to create a space where people could enjoy high-level cooking without the formality,” he says. “You’re eating food you would expect on an eight-course tasting menu, but you get to order the plates you want in an environment where you feel just so comfortable. Dishes like the dry-aged duck, which uses a 19th-century duck press to turn roasted duck bones into a rich Bordelaise-style sauce, made the restaurant an instant hit.

The gamble paid off massively when a MICHELIN star followed just two years later. Bresca’s success set him up to open Japanese tasting-counter restaurant Jônt in the same building in 2020. The menu is highly experimental with dishes like King crab rice cooked in a Donabe. It’s paired with a sauce of cultured butter, Hokkaido king crab, and kani-miso that’s made by roasting a whole crab over an open fire.

And Jônt, too, is a monster hit, earning two MICHELIN stars in 2021 (one of only three restaurants in DC) that it maintains to this day.

The Sunshine State calls

Ratino expanded to Florida after the MICHELIN Guide launched there in 2022. | Credit: Ruben Cabrera

When the MICHELIN Guide announced it would be launching in Florida in 2022, Ratino knew that’s where he needed to go next. But that wasn’t the only reason. Having gone to culinary school in the state, Florida has always had a special place in Ratino’s heart, and he knew he would be back one day. 

That dream became a reality in December 2023 when he opened contemporary wood-fired restaurant MAASS at the Four Seasons in Fort Lauderdale. The Infatuation called it a place for “dishes that don’t look or taste like anything else in Fort Lauderdale,” and you can expect dishes like a tomato appetizer bathed in seaweed vinegar, dried over the open wood-fire hearth, and steeped in tomato water before being served with a lemon verbena gelée, pearl onions, and sweet herbs. 

An offshoot of Jônt that spotlights Florida produce, Orlando’s ÔMO by Jônt, followed.  “If you’ve been to Jônt [in DC] and you go to Ômo, you feel the same—it’s just interpreted [as] the terroir of Florida.”

Establishing a national restaurant empire 

Ratino is now taking his showstopping dishes to California. | Credit: Rey Lopez

Similar to opening restaurants in Florida, heading to California next is personal—Ratino got his first job after culinary school in the state. Plus, Ratino couldn’t pass up the opportunity to open in the iconic Bazaar and Somni spaces at the SLS Beverly Hills hotel. “It’s kind of surreal to think that José Andrés was in there for over 10 years,” he says, referring to the legendary chef’s molecular gastronomy spot and two-MICHELIN-starred tasting-menu restaurant, respectively.

As he’s done elsewhere with local ingredients, Ratino is leaning on California produce and seafood in LA. “I like the idea of using the produce from farms within the region because that’s your network, and those are the people that you want to support,” he says. “Each restaurant is a different expression of what I love about cooking.”

At the European- and Japanese-influenced casual restaurant Orion, you can expect all of the best Pacific Ocean seafood like king crab, spot prawns, abalone, and black cod to star on the menu. Meanwhile, a new tasting counter offshoot of Jônt called Ode by Jônt will do Japanese food like the original but with California twists. Both are expected to open later this year. 

No matter where he goes next, Ratino says the rich regional diversity in each region will always inform his restaurants, but one thing will remain unchanged: signature dishes like his donabe rice that bring all the restaurants together. “Repeat guests welcome the familiarity and know they are dining at a Hive Hospitality restaurant regardless of the location.”

Christabel Lobo is a food and travel writer, illustrator, and guidebook author based between Washington, DC and Abu Dhabi. Her writing has appeared in publications including Insider and Lonely Planet, among others.

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