Born in Normandy, France and raised in the Loire Valley, Chef Guy Reuge is perhaps Long Island’s most celebrated cuisinier. He garnered La Toque’d; Argent (the Silver Toque), one of the culinary world’s prized accolades, along with being named; Chef of the Year; in 2006 by the Maitres Cuisiniers de France.
Past recipients of this prestigious honor include Jacques Pepin, Daniel Boulud, Pierre Orsi, René Verdon, and André Soltner.
After a successful 25-year run in St. James, NY, Lessing’s Hospitality invited Reuge to bring the Mirabelle name to Three Village Inn in Stony Brook where he operates two restaurants – the four-star Mirabelle Restaurant and Mirabelle Tavern. He is the talent behind Mirabelle Private Events, the catering arm of Mirabelle Restaurant bringing Mirabelle cuisine, service and excellence to all of Long Island and beyond.
Reuge is the author of the cookbook Le Petit Mirabelle and has contributed recipes to many others. In addition, he has been a guest on several shows on the Food Network and Fox Television and has been featured in Bon Appetit, Food Arts, New York magazine, Gourmet, The New York Times, Newsday, and The Daily News among others. Reuge is a dynamic promoter of French culinary arts. In 2001, he received the Chevalier du Merite Agricol, by the French government in recognition of his contribution to the French agriculture industry. He was inducted into the Maitre Cuisinier de France in 1990. He is a member of Le Commanderie Des Cordons Bleus, the Academie Culinaire de France, and the James Beard Foundation.
What or who inspired you to become a chef? What landed you in New York and what took you to Long Island?
My mother inspired me to become a chef. As a child I would watch her make our Sunday lunch, the most important meal of the week, and as I grew older I would help her. I came to New York in search of opportunity at the age of 21. I had been an apprentice/chef since I was 14, and had completed my apprenticeship training in France. I loved America. My hometown, Orleans, was the headquarters of NATO in the 1950s and 1960s and we had some American neighbors. I was fascinated by them and their American ways. I wanted to see for myself, and I arrived in this country in 1973. It was 10 years later, after I married, that I moved to Long Island. My wife's uncle and aunt lived there and persuaded us to move from NYC to St. James, LI, where we opened our first restaurant.
Who did you apprentice under and what impact did they have on your career? And do you look at that as an obligation to pass along what you’ve learned to the next generation of chefs?
I apprenticed under a chef named Honoré Lacombe in Strasbourg, France. Chef Lacombe taught me many things, including the art of charcuterie. He was the most influential person on my career as a chef. He also taught me the value of hard work. My goal today is to teach young cooks a love of cooking. I mentor many people who come to apprentice with me. I have hired many of these apprentices after working with them.
Walk us through a typical day at work and what are some of the challenges you face each day?
I leave for work at about 10AM. I do some shopping, especially at local farmers markets where I will pick up ingredients I may not get from my vendors. I arrive at work at about 11:30 and begin preparing the menus for the day. There is much prep work for our menus. Challenges are many including scheduling my staff, receiving the proper food deliveries, planning menus for future events etc. Anything can throw a wrench into the day such as a dishwasher or cook calling in sick and there is no one to replace them. I am not usually home until about 9:30-10PM.
The restaurant business can be fierce on Long Island, especially during the summer season. How do you compete?
Competition is tough anywhere. One has to constantly change, improve, and do the best you can.
How do the dynamics of a suburban restaurant differ from those of a Manhattan restaurant?
Suburban restaurants are generally much busier on the weekends than mid-week. Manhattan restaurants have a steadier stream of customers. Suburban restaurants are affected much more by weather factors or even something like back to school time.
What roles does the vendor community on both the equipment and food supply side play? And in your opinion, is today’s salesperson providing the level of service you need to succeed?
The vendor community is very important to our everyday life in the restaurant business. If you cannot depend on them to deliver good product, or what you ordered, or repair broken equipment in a timely fashion you will have problems. I have some very good salespeople who I enjoy working with.
There’s always talks of healthier eating, are your customers looking for that at your locations, and if so, how do you cater to the growing demand?
We are always updating our menus trying to make them healthier. Our cuisine is much lighter today than it was even 10 years ago, less butter and cream and more vegetarian dishes. We always accommodate vegans and those who eat gluten-free.
Do you feel that the restaurant industry suffers too much from Zagat, Yelp, and other consumer review sights? Are consumers depending too much on review?
The Zagat, Yelp, and other consumer review sights keep us on our toes. We have to be aware of them, not ignore the criticism, and respond when necessary. That said, we cannot change our concept because someone doesn’t like something. We are what we are.
What’s the scoop on the new “Fresh meets French” menu you’re offering guests?
In today’s marketplace there is an abundance of fresh products and many artisanal food sources. When I first came to the States many products were canned and the fresh produce, meats, fish were limited. That has changed significantly. I have always used artisanal sources but wanted to commit more to this with my new menu. I decided to have a menu format that allows me more freedom to change things everyday, instead of being committed to a set menu.
Hardest part of your job and the best part of your job?
Hardest part of my job: Lack of time for myself and my family.
Best part of my job: discovering new challenges everyday, like how to cook an ingredient in a different way.
Whether good, bad or a mix of both, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in our industry over the years?
Biggest change in our industry: the availability of high quality ingredients found in this country as opposed to 30 years ago.