Executive Dining Chef
Executive Dining for Restaurant Associates at Hearst Tower
New York City
Hometown: Oskaloosa, Iowa
Education: Graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, Montpelier, Vt.
Married and lives with wife, Utako, in New York City.
Since Ryan Becze, executive dining chef, came to Hearst Tower’s Café 57 a little more than a year and a half ago, he’s had his weekends free to pursue his other lifelong interest: flying helicopters.
“I’ve always been interested in flying, probably ever since I saw the movie Top Gun, I really wanted to be a pilot. When I was in grade school, I had the opportunity to fly in a little two-seat Piper airplane, which kind of got me hooked on flying. There were also a lot of helicopter TV shows that I liked as a kid, like Airwolf. Helicopters were always interesting to me because the aeronautics behind how they fly is pretty interesting to learn about.
So when I was in school it was a matter of, did I want to be a pilot or a chef? A chef seemed a little more practical at the time because I had grown up around food, harvesting from a garden and such. It was part of my family’s culture so it seemed like the logical route to go. But I never really lost my interest in flying. When I came to New York, I couldn’t help but notice that any time you look up there are at least half a dozen helicopters flying around. So I knew that I needed to get in one as soon as possible.
The process is funny because you think it’d be like getting a driver’s license. You have to have experience in the cockpit before you can have a license. I’m almost at the point where I can take the test for my license, but I’ve been flying solo a few times and doing all this stuff that you’d think you’d need a license for. Usually we do a short ground lesson prior to flying to check out the helicopter and then we go up. First, you focus on basic skills such as hovering, straight and level flight, takeoff, landings and flying patterns for around the airport. Prior to flying solo you must be competent in not only flying, but also what to do in case of an emergency, radioing with air traffic control and keeping track of where you are.
My favorite is doing an autorotation because it is pretty challenging, yet fun. In case the engine fails, the helicopter’s main rotor would continue to rotate due to the air being forced through it. We practice this by cutting the power to the main rotor, causing an extremely fast descent to tree top level, followed by flaring, then bringing the power back in and taking off again. It is like zooming in on Google Earth—the ground comes at you fast.
I first flew in a helicopter about two years ago. My first flight, I remember hovering stationary in midair and it was a very unnatural feeling that was entirely different than flying in an airplane. It was more like floating. I was more excited than nervous. Now when I fly solo, there are a lot more nerves involved. When I first started out, I was really surprised how sensitive the controls were because just slight movements with your fingertips can send you on a different course.
I think I like helicopters more than planes because, for one thing, helicopters can go anywhere. It’s kind of a dream of mine someday to have an inn or a bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere, where a helicopter would be a good mode of transportation. A helicopter is definitely a lot of constant hand-eye coordination and I guess foot-eye coordination. You basically have three different inputs that are constantly changing what the helicopter does. It’s really a lot of multitasking, which is one way I can relate it to cooking. There is always something going on that affects the outcome. One little adjustment here requires about six other adjustments to compensate.
Flying south down the Hudson River toward Manhattan is really pretty. The cliffs on the right side are almost at the height that you are flying, and the Manhattan skyline is to your left as you pass over the George Washington Bridge. I also flew during a vacation back in Iowa, which was a completely different experience because I was flying and landing in cornfields.”