Napa’s Atlas Social Chef On Food Trends and Who Would Play Him in a Movie (Plus a Recipe!)

Atlas Social, Nick Ritchie, chef

Photos Credit: Atlas Social

After a recent, mind-blowing meal at Napa gastropub newbie, Atlas Social (the latest offering from local restaurateur tag team, Michael Gyetvan and his wife, Christina), I knew I had to score an interview with Chef Nick Ritchie. Ritchie totally knocked my Manolo Blahniks off with his innovative menu that offers many “they may be small, but they’re packing humongous flavor” plates. The menu is cleverly organized by category: from the ranch, the sea or the garden. Ritchie had me at his Crispy Fried Farm Egg that was stuffed with Bacon Jam, the mini Rabbit Pot Pie, and of course, the gingery Sweet & Sour Crab Toasts and feather-light, Ricotta Dumplings.

Make sure to stick around after the interview for his Mixed Greens and Herbs with Warm Breaded Goat Cheese recipe!

JustLuxe: What inspired you to become a chef?

Nick Ritchie: My father owned a small market and butcher shop when I was young, so I grew up surrounded by food. My first job was in 1994, where I was exposed to a professional kitchen at Tra Vigne when I was 13 years old. It had a great impact on my career. 

JL: What was the first thing you cooked?

NR: Who knows really? Both my mom and dad cooked at home all the time so probably something simple with them...brownies, choc-chip cookies, pancakes with Mickey Mouse ears, blueberry muffins, that kind of stuff.

JL: Did you go to culinary school?

NR: Yes. I graduated in 2001 from the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY.

JL: Who is your culinary idol?

NR: Marco Pierre White.

JL: If you weren't a chef, what would you be?

NR: I don’t know really. I was never much for the idea of 4+ years of college, but most likely something working with animals.

Atlas Social, Nick Ritchie, chef

JL: Most exciting ingredient or cooking trend?

NR: Small plates and casual shared dining experiences. I like to see the industry starting to move away from the traditional coursed meal dining experience. 

JL: What are you trying to do differently from other chefs?

NR: Slow it down, keep it very simple. Stop taking the food so seriously and just have fun.

JL: If someone could only order one thing off your menu, what should it be?

NR: Ricotta and Smoked Mozzarella Dumplings

JL: What was your proudest culinary moment?

NR: Opening Atlas Social with my partners Michael, Christina, and Pat.

JL: After dining at your restaurant, where would you suggest people dine in Napa?

NR: Azzuro Pizzeria & Enoteca, Norman Rose Tavern, Torc, La Taberna, and Oenotri. 

Atlas Social, Nick Ritchie, chef

JL: What is something most people don’t know about you?

NR: Plenty of things...and I like to keep it that way.

JL: For your final supper you'd choose?

NR: Tough decision. Probably either pizza, pasta pomodoro and Caesar salad, or my dad’s BBQ chicken and my mom’s pesto pasta.

JL: If you were going to get a tattoo, what would it be?

NR: Already have plenty; I think I'm done for a while.

JL: Who should play you in the movie version of your life?

NR: “Marky Mark” Wahlberg

Atlas Social, Nick Ritchie, chef

Mixed Greens and Herbs with Warm Breaded Goat Cheese

Courtesy of Nick Ritchie, this dish is a beautiful way to start a summer dinner, along with a bottle of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. And if you have them, edible flowers would be a nice addition to the salad. If you don’t have a garden to snip the ingredients from and don’t want to buy a lot of different herbs, use baby lettuce mixed with one or two of the suggested herbs.

Serves: 4


  • 1/2 cup fine dried breadcrumbs or Panko breadcrumbs
  • Sea salt, preferably gray salt, and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 4 rounds fresh goat cheese; about 2 ounces each
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the salad
  • 6 cups mixed baby greens and/or wild spring greens
  • 2 cups lightly packed mixed tender fresh herb leaves such as basil, chervil, tarragon, Italian parsley, chives (1-inch lengths), young cress, and edible flowers (flowers optional)
  • Red wine vinegar


In a small, shallow bowl, mix the bread crumbs with salt and pepper to taste. In another small, shallow bowl, beat the egg just until blended. Dip each goat cheese round in the egg and then in the bread crumbs, patting the crumbs in place. Refrigerate the coated cheese rounds for about 15 minutes. Heat a large nonstick skillet over moderately high heat. Add the two tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is almost smoking, add the cheese rounds, one coated side down. Cook until lightly browned, about 45 seconds, then turn and cook on the second side until the cheese just feels quivery, about 45 seconds longer depending on the thickness of the rounds. 

In a bowl, toss the greens, herbs, and flowers (if using) with a splash of red wine vinegar, a light drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Divide the greens between four plates or salad bowls. Top each salad with a portion of the warm breaded goat’s cheese. Garnish with minced chives and flake salt and serve immediately. 

Janice Nieder

Janice Nieder could be the love child of Indiana Jones and Julia Child. She was a specialty food consultant for 12 years in New York, with a client list that included Tavern on the Green, Dean & Deluca and Sign of the Dove. After being bitten by the travel bug, her culinary adventures took her to over 90 countries, where she shared a smoked monkey dinner with a generous Shuar Indian family deep...(Read More)

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