We sat down with Gabriel Rucker, a FOOD & WINE Best New Chef and visiting master chef at our latest obsession, Chefs Club.
LA: Tell us a bit about yourself.
GR: I grew up in Napa and I started cooking when I was eighteen because I didn’t want to go to school, and then I kind of fell into cooking. I went to school at the junior college and took a class for a year and then I left that and got a job. I ended up in Portland in 2003 and I worked at a restaurant called Paley’s Place, where I learned a lot. It was kind of like one of those foundation restaurants in Portland. In 2006, I was out of a job and at 25 ended up getting a job as a chef at Le Pigeon and then a year later I became business partner in the restaurant. Fast forward nine years: I’m in New York at Chefs Club.
LA: What inspired you to become a chef?
GR: I was never really inspired where I wanted to be a chef. I kind of fell into it because I didn’t want to do math class, but the nice thing was once I started doing it, things really made sense to me and everything started to click and found something that I was good and passionate about. I kind of dove in headfirst and pursued it.
LA: How would you describe your personal culinary style and how does it change the dynamic here at Chefs Club?
GR: I think my personal style is to do American classics with a French twist or technique. They wanted me to really do French food at Chefs Club, so it's more straight up French here than I would cook at Le Pigeon, but they wanted everyone to have a little role they fit into. I have 3 dishes on the menu here and I am very happy with all of them. The response has been really great. It’s been fun to come and develop the dishes with the team here. I came back for the opening and got to watch that happen, so to be here again and see everything going very well and how I want it to go is great. I am really pleased with the way it’s turned out.
LA: Of those 3 dishes you have on the menu, if you had to pick a favorite which one would it be?
GR: Probably the foie gras.
LA: Do you have a favorite from any of the other chefs?
GR: Yes, Linton’s seafood boil.
LA: Do you have a favorite pairing?
GR: I don’t drink, but I once ordered this chamomile tea with a salmon and tangerine dish and that was really amazing.
LA: Tell us about your studio tasting in a nutshell.
GR: Well I don’t usually do stuff that I haven’t done before. I shipped some stuff so it was inspired by things that I had in Portland, like geoduck from the Northwest and goat that we had, but it is still changing. We're talking at 4:00 today, the day of the dinner, so it’s still kind of evolving. I think I’ll know more after but it’s been fun and I brought my chef de cuisine that’s never been to New York so we’re just seeing where it goes.
LA: Do you have a go-to ingredient?
GR: I think foie gras is definitely our biggest seller, a dish that the restaurant is most known for.
LA: What about something that you incorporate into every dish?
GR: We squeeze lemon on everything.
LA: Any guilty pleasures?
GR: Cheeseburgers for sure.
LA: What about a chef that inspires you?
GR: I’d say that all the people I get inspired most by are the people that work for me. Not like a chef that I follow. I kind of let people have a voice in the kitchen because I started being a chef, the boss at the age of twenty five with not a lot of experience under my belt, so I need to learn from the people that I hire.
LA: How do you and your restaurant staff work as a team and how does that translate to the environment here?
GR: I really strive and emphasize communication. We have cook meetings everyday and I think that we work really well together as a team. Everyone kind of has a voice and I let everyone be heard. I let people experiment and learn and so that translates well here because you can’t just do a project and come in here and say: “it’s my way or the highway” because these guys are in here everyday and I’m just here for brief periods of time (because I’m in Portland) so I need to let them figure out what works best to do my dishes the best.
LA: Tell us about your proudest moment thus far in your career as a chef.
GR: It’s kind of recent, but we did a special dinner on Valentine’s Day and we had a dessert as a “build your own ice cream sundae” and it worked out exactly how I wanted. Everyone got their own bowl of ice cream and we had a table filled with toppings and I wanted people sharing and laughing, having a good time; when I was walking around and realized this is exactly how it played out, and I actually thought to myself that it was one of the happiest moments I’ve had in my restaurant
LA: Any spots that you really love in New York City?
GR: I eat at Estela every time I’m here. It's such a great spot.
LA: Do you have any other projects in the works?
GR: Two kids [laughs]. We do have another restaurant called Little Bird, which is almost five years old. I've got my hands pretty full.
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