Frank Ruta

Why Because his versions of authentic Italian dishes have an unusual and welcome depth of flavor.

Born 1957, McKeesport, PA.

Education American Culinary Federation, Pittsburgh.

Experience The White House and Le Pavillon, Washington, DC.

How he began cooking "My mother had me stirring pasta as soon as I was tall enough to reach the stove."

Things he cooked at the White House Fried chicken for Jimmy Carter; well-done steak for Ronald Reagan; shad roe for George Bush.

How he nearly didn't get the jobPart one: Someone from the White House called and Ruta hung up on him. "I thought it was a joke."

Part two He brought kitchen knives to an audition-interview and was detained for two hours by White House guards. "They looked at me like I was crazy."

Favorite cookbook Roma in Cucina by Luigi Carnacina and Vincenzo Buonassisi.

Pet peeve When chefs tart up classic dishes without renaming them. "It's like going to see Turandot and getting Yellow Submarine instead."

Pastimes Gardening, making wine.

About his recipe Ruta says his Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms "taste like walking through the forest. I fill them with lovage, sorrel, nettles. All the weeds in my backyard."

Won Best New Chef at: Palena, Washington, DC