fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

Italia Meets Alabama

An Authentic Experience with Coastal Flair

Interview by Jordan Staggs | Photography courtesy of Vintage Hospitality Group

When dining at an award-winning restaurant, patrons might wonder how the executive chef and the supporting culinary team create the menu, execute the flawless presentation, and pull off memorable events night after night. A special outing for a family or group of friends is just another “day at the office” for those working in hospitality, and becoming known for elevated experiences takes practice, consistency, and care. Chef Eric Rivera and the team at Ravello Ristorante in Montgomery, Alabama, know this well.

Growing up in Colorado, Chef Rivera learned to cook thanks to both of his grandmothers. “We shopped at local farm stands and markets for our ingredients, so I also developed an appreciation for sourcing ingredients from my community,” he says. “I began working in kitchens as a teenager and immediately loved the pace and culture of hospitality—the community created by serving customers and being part of a team.”

He quickly rose through the kitchen ranks, becoming executive chef of the award-winning Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria in Denver. He later moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and continued racking up accolades. In 2021, Rivera was a finalist for the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association’s Best Chef Awards. He is also a 2020 James Beard Chefs Boot Camp alumnus and is involved in a culinary and arts exchange with Montgomery’s sister city of Pietrasanta, Italy.

Part of Montgomery-based Vintage Hospitality Group, Ravello Ristorante is co-owned and operated by Rivera and restaurateur Jud Blount. The coastal Italian dining destination has made regional and national headlines since opening in May 2022

Before taking the helm at Ravello, Chef Rivera led Vintage Year, another Vintage Hospitality concept. The steak-and-seafood restaurant gained recognition from the James Beard Foundation as a Smart Catch Leader for its sustainable seafood sourcing, as well as a grand prize winner of the Blended Burger Contest. It was named one of OpenTable’s 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America, a Traveler’s Choice winner by Tripadvisor, and Montgomery Advertiser’s Best of the Best Romantic Restaurant.

Chef Eric Rivera

VIE was thrilled to catch up with Chef Rivera to find out what it takes to create award-winning dining experiences, what inspires him in the kitchen, and more.

VIE: How did you decide to make the culinary arts your full-time career?

Chef Eric Rivera: It wasn’t necessarily my plan, but the more I learned, the more driven I became to understand this industry. I was learning about culinary arts on the job but wanted to know more about how the business ran. I studied restaurant and hotel management at Metropolitan State University in Denver while working and cooking full-time. I quickly became knowledgeable about independent restaurants and worked in every position in fine dining and high-volume kitchens, doing over four hundred covers every night. By age twenty, I had my first opportunity to serve as a sous chef at the well-respected Marlowe’s at Denver’s 16th Street Mall.

VIE: What was it like to be an executive chef at twenty-three years old? How have things changed from then to now?

ER: Becoming an executive chef early in my career was a daunting challenge. Luckily, I was part of a much larger restaurant group and had a great team surrounding me, often lifting me up daily. Fifteen years later, I have had many opportunities to do the same for others. The role has been reversed, and I take so much pride in those who I have helped become chefs themselves.

VIE: Many have said Birmingham, Alabama, has seen a “restaurant revival” in the past several years, elevating its status as a Southern cultural capital. Do you plan to build the same legacy in Montgomery?

ER: My time in Birmingham coincided with the beginning of that “revival,” and it has been gratifying and motivating to see how the hospitality community there has become known for its creativity and quality. At all of our restaurants in Montgomery, we are committed to delivering an outstanding dining experience with the best possible ingredients and service. We also work to expand the local palate through our inspiration, techniques, and hospitality. This, along with our commitment to growing our workforce and community, has transformational power for Montgomery’s restaurant and dining scene. We’ve also been honored to represent Montgomery and the state’s restaurant industry at some excellent festivals, including 30A Wine Festival, Charleston Wine + Food, and the Sip and Savor Festival in Meridian, Mississippi, which helps get the word out that there’s excellent dining in Alabama’s capital city.

Chef Rivera and his team continually work to evolve the menu at Ravello and provide new experiences for guests.

VIE: What key elements are needed to pull off a successful event or even a regular evening in the kitchen at Ravello?

ER: Teamwork is essential. I learned early in my career that a culture of mentorship is key to developing a team that can handle anything from a small wine dinner to a full restaurant buy-out. It’s how you assure consistent quality and the resiliency needed to address the inevitable, unexpected challenges of the kitchen.

VIE: What inspires you about food? How does that passion come through in your dishes and the way you motivate your team?

ER: I believe food is the ultimate art form, and there are endless creations to be made and ingredients to work with. I am inspired by its beauty, flavor, and texture. I enjoy having the ability to transform food in a multitude of creative ways to present to my team, educate them, and present to the table where I can create a lasting memory for each of our guests.

I believe food is the ultimate art form, and there are endless creations to be made and ingredients to work with. I am inspired by its beauty, flavor, and texture.
A robust wine selection and carefully crafted cocktail menu by beverage director Carson Moore and his team round out the menu at Ravello.

VIE: What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of running a restaurant?

ER: I often find that the most challenging part of this business is the time it requires of you and the emotional fortitude you must show daily for yourself and those depending on you. The reward is growth—growing yourself, your team, the business, and success within the community.

VIE: How did you get involved with the 30A Wine Festival in Alys Beach, Florida, this year?

ER: We were honored to be invited to participate in the 30A Wine Festival this year. This was a great showcase of some of the best restaurants in the region, and the attendees appreciated the outstanding cuisine offered. I incorporate fresh Gulf seafood in many of our dishes, particularly with Ravello’s coastal Italian cuisine, so the setting was absolutely perfect for enjoying what we love to create. We had the opportunity to get to know fellow pros, learn and share a few things, and enjoy sharing what we do with a new audience of potential guests.

VIE: Italy is world-renowned as one of the best destinations for food and wine. What, in your opinion, makes Italian cuisine so special?

ER: Simplicity—it’s the care for each flavor, individually and as a whole. Our daily lives are complicated, and food connects us to our past, present, and future. Italian cuisine is masterful at doing so.

VIE: What’s your favorite meal to make at home?

ER: I love to make breakfast, and it is the meal I am most consistently around for. It is important to me that we get to start our day as a family, and no matter how late I worked the night before, I make it a point to get up and make breakfast. I want my kids always to remember breakfast with Dad.

Our daily lives are complicated, and food connects us to our past, present, and future. Italian cuisine is masterful at doing so.
Ravello, located in the historic City Fed building in Montgomery, is also available to rent for special events.

VIE: Tell us a little about Ravello’s involvement with area nonprofits and how you aim to give back to the community.

ER: Besides supporting and participating in several local nonprofit and charity events and teaching classes at Auburn University’s Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management, we find it rewarding to work with the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association and their Pro-Start program. We provide instruction and mentorship and serve as judges in this training program that helps our state develop talent and show young people there are rewarding careers available in hospitality.

VIE: Are there any projects or events coming up for you and Ravello this year that you’d like to share?

ER: Soon, we’ll welcome Chef Gianluca Tolla to our kitchen at Ravello as part of our culinary exchange program with Montgomery’s sister city of Pietrasanta, Italy. Chef “Luca” will bring his own authentic touch to the menu, and our team will learn from him while we share our knowledge of local produce and ingredients. This will enhance the experience at Ravello and continue pushing the boundaries of the local palate.

I encourage readers always to explore local restaurants in their home city or wherever they travel; there is so much opportunity to uplift small businesses and become a part of their family. We love our regulars and visitors alike. Our doors are always open!

— V —

Visit RavelloMGM.com to learn more, check out the menu, make a reservation, or inquire about hosting your special event at the historic City Fed building in downtown Montgomery.

Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine September 2023 Jay Mercado
VIE Magazine - The Art & Design Issue November 2021
VIE Magazine January 2021 Special Commemorative Edition
VIE Magazine September 2020 Wanderlust Issue, Fancy Camps, The Idea Boutique
VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail