TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - How did Canadian celebrity chef Guy Rubino reinvent himself in the middle of a recession?
With three restaurants and an international television series behind him, Rubino has joined the ranks of high-end chefs doing more approachable food by overhauling the avant-garde space and menu of his pan-Asian restaurant Rain and reopening under a new name.
At Ame, which launched in September and translates as rain in Japanese, Rubino is retiring his famous three-way plating (one main ingredient served in three applications) in favor of his personal take on authentic Japanese fare -- at prices more affordable to diners.
He's been described by critics as a culinary wizard but among Rubino's latest gadgets is an ancient robata grill that uses oak-based binchotan coals imported from Japan to make traditional delicacies such as sea bream and wagyu beef.
Rubino spoke to Reuters about his new concept and working under the spotlight.
Q: Was the plan to make Ame more approachable than Rain?
A: "We were known for doing our tasting menus that would go on for two and a half, three hours. I didn't want to lose that side of the business but I wanted to open up another side of the business where it was more democratic, as you said. The price points vary considerably, so coming to Ame now, you're not committed to spend a lot of money."
Q: What has been the reaction?
A: "It's been a horrible year for the restaurant business. Many people have been looking at us and saying, 'Are you nuts opening up a restaurant like this in the midst of a recession?' I clearly say. 'Yes, we are' ... I tell everyone in the kitchen, this means that we have to work harder than we ever have.
"The restaurant business has been hit hard by this thing and we have to give people a reason to come and see us, which means the plates have to be perfect. If it means working an extra two hours each day, then that's what we do. And if it means that we have to use cheaper ingredients, fine, but that doesn't mean that we have to stop thinking. It's a lot harder to make something with eggplant tasty than it is with foie gras, so that's our mindset here, you up the ante."
Q: When it comes to Japanese cuisine, what works here and what doesn't?
A: "Authentic Japanese food is very delicate, very clean, very simple. It doesn't have big, bold, spicy or acidic nuances, and Westerners seem to want the big, bold, spicy. If they want something rich, it better be really rich, if they want something acidic, it has to be very acidic, so we tend to be a bit more polarized with our palate. So you have to keep that in mind if you're going to be cooking for that audience, and primarily that's exactly what we do ...
"There's the actual flavor and there's the type of ingredients. We have an eel ramen dish on the menu for example, and the pork and the tofu ramen outsells it four to one. We don't have whale on the menu but you could find whale sashimi in Japan, no problem. We've run some tuna collars as specials here and people haven't been going for it but we sell a ton of tuna sashimi. The only thing that the West really seems to embrace just as much as the Japanese have is wagyu beef."
Q: What's next? Are there plans to write a book?
A: "I'm not ready to sit down and do a book. I'd rather open up more restaurants right now. I'd rather shoot more television. I'd rather record music. I'd rather do more of that kind of always-on-the-go type of stuff. I think a book later on ... I'd like to do two books. One might be a type of classic cookbook. The other might be something literary that really talks about the industry and life in general and the commitment, experiences and stories and relationships, how this business has taken a huge toll on my life personally, which is why I'm still single. There's a lot to tell in that aspect. "
Recipe - Tuna kabayaki with lime yogurt (serves 2)
2 5-oz pieces of sushi grade tuna
1 1/2 cups soy sauce
2 tbsp of brown sugar
1 small chili diced fine
1 tsp of ginger diced fine
Heat all ingredients in a small pot and keep covered for 15 minutes then strain and let cool until room temperature.
1/2 cup of plain yogurt
1 tbsp of shiro or saikyo miso
Juice of one lime
Wisk well and set aside. Place the tuna into the kabayaki marinade for 15 minutes. Remove tuna, slice fine sashimi style and serve with the yogurt. If you prefer your tuna seared, cook at high heat to desired color. Garnish with diced scallions.
Editing by Patricia Reaney