Nick Ragazzo is a 33-year-old chef who decided one day that he no longer wanted to work for anyone but himself. A native of the East Coast and well-traveled, Ragazzo wanted to put his own spin on creative cooking. That's where the Blackened Dragon comes into play. The passionate chef is now the sole owner and operator of one of Bend's newest food carts, open for less than two months now. His new food cart specializes in what he calls Cajun-Asian street food, with bold flavors and mix-matched, yet complementary dishes.
The name Blackened Dragon, he explains, comes from his style of cooking. "Blackened" refers to the Cajun and "Dragon" to the Asian influence. It all began one day not so long ago. He was working for "not the nicest chef," in Portland. "I was always really into making shift meals with what was left over, and one day the chef, just to be [a jerk] threw me and another cook a bunch of random ingredients, thinking we couldn't do anything with it. Well, we did. The other cook was thinking more Cajun and I, more Asian." He reminisces with a smile about the theme of his cart and how it came to be.
One of his current menu items is the unusual and wonderful Pork Po'Mi. This is a clever combination of a po'boy, originating from Louisiana, and the popular Vietnamese sandwich called a bahn mi. Blackened Dragon takes these two and creates something unique and delicious with locally sourced products and ingredients, filling a Pho roll with house terrine, pork shoulder, fried pickles, aioli and lettuce.
He talks passionately about the quality of ingredients he sources, and when his obvious enthusiasm is pointed out, this vibrant chef shrugs and says, "I just get excited about all food and about supporting local families and business." That's an absolutely commendable thing to say in such a competitive business. Aside from experiencing his tasty creations, supporting Blackened Dragon (or at least giving it a try) supports other local businesses and the families who own and operate them.
In addition to the supportive approach to keeping things local, another key factor is the freshness and quality standards he carries. He creates and cooks almost everything from scratch. "It is a 99 percent scratch-kitchen," he says. "I make my own sausage, pasta, pretty much all of it. It's extremely labor intensive, but it's worth it," says Ragazzo.
Currently Ragazzo is the only worker to man his cart. "I have no life. All I do is work," he says with a smile. Blackened Dragon kept a low profile in its first two months, knowing there would be a move to the new site at the Box Factory (formerly known as the Old Mill Marketplace). "I didn't want people to get used to the cart being in one location, since I knew I was moving," he says. "That'll be the last move, because this cart is heavy and my Jeep can barely take it."
Ragazzo is now a Bend local. He's a local businessman, chef, a friend, a solid member of this community, and he does his part to support others. This cart purchases its meats, veggies and even seasonings from local venders, and he couldn't speak more highly of them all.
Box Factory, next to Atlas Cider
350 SW Industrial Way, Bend
Sun, Tues, Wed: Noon to 8 p.m.
Thu to Sat: Noon to 10 p.m.