Growing up in Maryland, Ryan Barron remembers preparing salads with his father and baking cherry pies with his mother, as early as six years old. Cooking was an activity they enjoyed as a family—and one that offered validation, which, to Barron, was the clincher.
“I think when we work or we make something, it should add value to someone else’s life or experience in a positive way,” he says. And cooking is the way 27-year-old Barron has chosen to do that.
After working as a dishwasher at a mom-and-pop pizza restaurant, a food runner and line cook at VOLT Restaurant in Frederick, MD, a chef and general manager at Lunchbox and a chef at Avila Catering in Washington D.C., Barron joined Freshly in 2018. In the eight months since, he has worked as a chef on the culinary assurance team, ensuring all Freshly recipes are cooked to specification, and served as an area culinary lead. Most recently, he made the switch to Executive Chef of Production.
We caught up with Ryan at our facility in Maryland and chatted about his favorite culinary creations and secrets to staying healthy:
Q: What was a staple in your kitchen when you were a child?
A: I would say—this is kind of weird—probably green beans. When I was a teenager, I lived with my mom and she would just put the beans into the microwave and it was easy for her, so she was like, “Here, vegetables. Green beans.” And that’s actually how I cook at home and how I eat now. Microwaved vegetables, if they’re done properly, can have a more intense flavor because you actually see less flavor leaching out (if you compare them to blanched vegetables).
Q: What was your path to becoming a chef?
A: I didn’t go to culinary school. I’ve learned all that I know either on the job or from cooking at home. Before I worked at VOLT, I was trying to develop a base skill set of cooking so I was teaching myself how to bake bread. I would also try to make pasta in my dorm room. I had a pasta roller that I would hook up to my little dorm room desk and I had the pasta sheets drying on coat hangers inside the armoire that they gave me. I tried to learn as much as I could on my own and then once I joined VOLT, it kind of just opened up my horizons.
Q: Who are your culinary inspirations?
A: Bryan Voltaggio and Alton Brown. Bryan (co-owner and executive chef of VOLT Restaurant) has his own perspective on food and menu development. He creates dishes that have one ingredient prepared several different ways. It’s about taking an ingredient and really showcasing it. And Alton because I love “Good Eats” so much and he was really a good person to introduce me to the science of cooking.
Q: What’s one thing you always keep in your fridge?
A: Eggs. They’re my go-to meal on my days off because they’re nutrient dense and allow you to control your protein and fat intake.
They’re also easy to cook and there’s a ton of different ways to serve them. For instance, something really simple I like is a soft-boiled egg with olive oil, flaky sea salt, and fresh black pepper. If I want something a little more substantial, I’ll bake some eggs in marinara sauce with cheese and homemade sourdough bread.
Q: What’s the tastiest dish you’ve ever eaten?
A: The best thing I ever ate was a sandwich. When I was a kid, living in California, my family and I used to go to this Fourth of July party at my dad’s boss’s house. And every year, this guy would stop at a Mexican meat market and bring this marinated chicken with him. He would also make a Hawaiian barbecue sauce that went on it, and it was the best thing I’ve ever had in my life. I would eat it once a year, and then think about it all year long until I got it again.
Q: Has eating healthy always been important to you or is it something that’s evolved?
A: I try to be realistic. Like, I’m not going to cut out ice cream for my entire life. No, no, no. Me and ice cream go way back so I just try to eat less. To me, what’s nice about Freshly is that it helps you see what a portion should look like and how big a meal should be, and gives you get a good sense of the volume-to-calories ratio.
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant?
A: I like Le Diplomate in Washington, D.C. It’s a classic French restaurant. The food there is really good and the service is good, but, more than anything, I like the ambience and it’s a place that my wife and I go to and that’s “our place.” Also, this is not strictly a restaurant, but I like the Alamo Drafthouse a lot. I like being able to go to a movie theater and order a meal and it’s just very relaxing. It’s strange because it’s a more consistent experience than most restaurants.
Q: What’s a healthy eating or cooking hack that you can share?
A: The biggest one is meal prep and keeping it simple. I’m the kind of person who can eat the same thing for lunch seven days a week, and not really get tired of it. I look forward to eating even just chicken and rice. So on my days off, I use an immersion circulator at home to cook a bunch of chicken breasts, and then vacuum seal them. That way, I make sure I’m hitting the macronutrients that I want. Also, a meal period—like breakfast, lunch or dinner—has to be well defined for me to eat healthy. I have to know what I’m going to eat and how much I’m going to eat before I start my meal or I’m not going to stop myself and I’m just going to keep on eating and snacking until I’m super full.
Q: What drew you to Freshly?
A: I studied chemistry in college so working at Freshly appealed to me because it was a chance to pick a team environment over a laboratory. In professional kitchens, I like seeing what we can all accomplish together and the way that everybody looks after each other. I really, really enjoy the camaraderie. So I was excited about being on a team at Freshly and being able to support other people while having people to support me.
From a product standpoint, I like that this is a great way for people to eat healthy. Eating Freshly regularly opens up your whole world and changes the way that you experience food. Also, the meals themselves can train you to change your eating habits. They can train you to change your palate. For example, I find that the less I consume refined sugars, the sweeter naturally sweet foods start to taste.
Q: What’s your favorite Freshly meal?
A: The Wild-Caught Mahi with Cilantro-Lime Rice & Romesco, and the Chicken Livorno with White Beans and Kale. I love these meals because they are well seasoned and full of flavor without having too much sodium or fat.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to help make healthy eating accessible to all?
A: As time has gone on, it’s gotten more and more expensive to eat healthy more regularly and I think a lot of people don’t necessarily have access to high-quality healthy food throughout the United States. It’s not as though the option for healthy food has gone away, but the options for unhealthy food have gotten more plentiful. So, as we expand, we get to reach new markets where people may have a harder time getting healthy food. It’s great for people to have an option where all the work is done for them.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being part of the Freshly team?
A: The attitudes that people have about their jobs is unique to Freshly. I can’t necessarily explain it, and I don’t know why it is but people just come in wanting to work hard and do a good job. It’s normally a challenge to get such people in restaurants, but here they are in droves. It’s crazy!