Ten years ago, finding one of the Dallas area's most promising new restaurants in Flower Mound would have been unthinkable. The progression of fine dining and upscale casual food has firmly made its way to even the far-flung suburbs, but you can still call Ray Skradzinski a pioneer at The Table. Along with his partners Bruce Wills and Ty Welborn, Skradzinski is throwing down with the culinary skills he has honed over a decade of working for Wolfgang Puck.
Skradzinski has swapped his white chef’s coat and white tablecloths for a monogrammed work shirt and modern rustic decor in the suburbs. We sat down to talk with Skradzinski about cooking in the 'burbs, coming up under Puck and his talented roster of chefs, and where you can find decent Polish food (outside of The Table’s delicious pierogies) in Dallas-Fort Worth.
What was your background before opening The Table? That accent doesn't sound Texan.
I’ve been cooking since I was 16. I started cooking bacon-wrapped scallops and washing dishes at a country club in New Jersey when I was young. I went to college to study engineering, and I had a scholarship, but I cooked to pay for the rest of my bills. Between the beer and the working, I decided that the culinary world was what I wanted. I dropped out of college to go to culinary school, and then I dropped out of culinary school when they wanted me to work in their restaurant for free. I tell everyone that I cook because I love it, I manage because I get paid to.
Then I worked at a bunch of inns and taverns across Jersey, and I saw that Wolfgang Puck was opening at the Borgata, and I started as a sauté cook there. Nine months later I had moved up to be a sous, and I worked there for about 10 years. Five years ago, they flew me down to Dallas where I was the executive sous chef [at Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck] for five years. My business partner wanted to try to do our own thing, and I said “OK, great, where?” He says Flower Mound, and I said “OK, great, where’s that?” But I came up here, and I saw how many people there were, and how many chain restaurants — ugh — there were, so I thought it would be a great place for us to open up.
Did you have reservations about coming to Flower Mound, especially from a place like Five Sixty?
Yes and no. I really enjoy high-end, upscale, multi-course ridiculous-expense food. That’s what I really love to do, but when I came here, it seemed like there was a need for something that was homemade, but a little more involved. I wanted to build in any of the 8,000 communities in Dallas that are blowing up right now. When we saw this space first, it was just dirt. We were able to build whatever we wanted. I’ve worked in a lot of new kitchens, but I’ve never been able to design my own.
You’re married to Front Room Tavern pastry chef Allison Morse. What is it like to have a relationship in which both of you are in the kitchen all the time and on completely different schedules?
She understands. We met working at Wolfgang Puck in Atlantic City. We would sneak and make out in the walk-in when no one was looking, and that was 10 or 11 years ago. She’s always been a pastry chef, I’ve always been a chef, so our paths would cross at work occasionally. I poke her when I get home and tell her I’m alive, and vice versa.
The Polish touch at The Table is interesting — I don’t know of any places really to get a decent pierogi.
Taste of Poland! You have to go to Taste of Poland. It’s a little hole in the wall, but you can bring your own beer. They have these weird polka-dot tablecloths, and there’s an awning inside. I guess it’s for ambiance. Me and my buddies from ice hockey will go there and bring beer and just eat. The pierogies have been flying out of the kitchen here, and I haven’t even offered them for lunch yet. That makes me really happy because they’re something I love. They’re comfort food for me. I used to make pierogies at Five Sixty and send them out to friends and VIPs, but I was wasn’t sure exactly how they’d take here.
The diners here want to learn. They want good food, and we’re trying to offer them a really wide range of that, from the burger to a game hen that we confit for four hours. We’re trying to make the perfect mix of bar and grill with high-end elements. We’re going to start booking our chef’s counter, and I’ll do seven courses that are totally different than what we normally do. We have so many different things planned. I want to do a suckling pig for a big table. I want to braise big beef shanks for big parties. I have tons of ideas, I just have to wait until the ball is rolling and everything is refined. I’ve opened a lot of restaurants, but doing it on your own without other people yelling at you all the time is different.
How would you describe your own style of food?
I just like to cook, and I love food. If we could open an Asian restaurant and a French restaurant and a, I don’t know, Greek restaurant next door, I would do that. My food is rich and fatty. If we renamed the restaurant, it would be called “confit.” We render off beef fat to brush our fries and steak with; I keep 30 pounds of duck fat in the fridge all the time.
A chef told me one time that you should diet on your own time and eat when you go out. I like confiting things. I’m kind of a slut for a sunny-side up egg on anything. I like to think that my style is seasonal and rich. Light is a stretch for me. I can do it, but it’s not what I’m passionate about. That said, I love doing sashimi dishes and refreshing dishes like that. Within each style of cuisine, I like different things.
How did you link up with your restaurant partners?
Bruce [Wills] and I worked at Five Sixty for five years, and Ty Welborn has known Bruce for years. Ty doesn’t have a ton of restaurant experience, but he’s great at the front door, great at the back-office stuff, and he really is focused on customer satisfaction. He wants everyone to be happy. Bruce was a strong manager for Wolfgang Puck for so many years. I said that I would never go into business with someone that I didn’t really trust, because I’ve seen a lot of people get burned that way, but I’d take a bullet for Bruce. These guys keep the restaurant locked down so I can stay in the kitchen.
That’s got to be refreshing — being able to just cook and be a chef and not have to do as many of the “owner” duties. Does that give you the space to do more?
Definitely, especially because it gives me more time on the line. I can spend a lot of time teaching my guys on the line. I told my guys that they should never take a job where you can’t move up, make more money or learn. I’ll try to give them at least two out of three. I will always try to teach you. I hate the stereotypical old-school chef that people are scared to ask questions of. If you don’t know it, I don’t care. YouTube it. We’ll figure it out and learn together. That’s just the way that I am.
The open kitchen kind of changes the way that the restaurant runs, right?
Yeah, I can’t tell people to suck my balls. I’m not a yeller. I might break people’s balls, but that’s not my style. I might throw something out, that’s about it.
Was it challenging to find good, experienced cooks who could come out all the way to Flower Mound? There’s no public transit, and it’s far.
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Yes and no. At first, I was petrified. I put out ads, and I got no responses. I was scared shitless. The guys I did get responses from, they’d been putting bumpers on cars for the last 18 years or whatever. I put out feelers at culinary schools, and I got very lucky to have two awesome sous chefs. One of my sous has literally been here two weeks from Seattle. But my line staff, I was really happy at how they all turned out to work together. I’ve never hired people that have staged for me — I need to see how you cook, need to see you hold a knife.
We had a week of training and went through the boring policies and procedures, but we went through each step and learned it really well. We learned how to make stocks and how to do our pizza dough and the house pickles. I try to work with everyone individually so they can learn quickly and have everyone on the same page.
That’s gotta be pretty exciting, right? To be able to train chefs in exactly your way of doing things.
Yes, it’s great. I normally explain stuff to my cooks, show them how to do it, do it with them and then they practice. We do it together.