Toronto based chef Guy Rubino grew up in the seemingly bucolic St. Catharines, Ontario’s “Garden City,” and a city that apparently doesn’t have much international flavor. It wasn’t until he attended Carleton University that he gained exposure to the global influences that eventually inspired Ame, one of the city’s most acclaimed Asian restaurants. We met on September 29 at the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival “Streets of Asia” event, and Rubino shared several culinary insights, along with information about an upcoming Italian restaurant and details surrounding a new album from his rock band, B.M.D.
What’s the criteria for a dish that goes on the menu at your restaurant?
It has to be something different that people have never tried before. The objective is to always push the boundaries and be creative. We’re not the type of restaurant where we stick to the same old recipes. We want to continue to evolve. It’s actually a very selfish thing on our end. We actually don’t think about the customers first. We try and look at it very much like when you get up in the morning and decide what you’re going to wear. You can’t wear the same thing every day, so it’s sort of like, if you mix this shirt with these pants and jacket and this tie, and so on and so forth, and the next day it’s going to be something different. It depends on how you feel in the morning, and the type of mood that you’re in. If the sun’s shining, that’s going to reflect how you’re going to dress. If it’s raining outside, then you might decide to dress differently that day because it’s raining. We kind of look at it in the same regard. What are we going to cook based on the weather, the temperature, the mood, what we’re into, but it’s going to be original and different.
What’s the most recent dish that you came up with?
Well the most recent dish is the one we did today. It’s sort of like doing some research, “Hey, we’re going to be in Hawaii, what’s the temperature like?” “Well, it’s going to be in the 30s [Celsius] and sunny.” I’m like, “Okay, it’s going to be hot. I don’t really want anything heavy. I want something super clean with citrusy flavors and fruity,” that kind of stuff that your body typically craves in hot weather. So then it was about what is available to us in this region that we’re in, and we usually just take the same philosophy wherever we are, even if we’re back home in the restaurant or abroad doing events, it’s always just about being smart. Why would I try to import something from somewhere else if I’m in Hawaii? There’s got to be great stuff here.
So it’s kampachi, sea asparagus…
It’s kampachi ceviche with sea asparagus and pohaberry miso, which is kind of like a gooseberry that grows locally. Kampachi’s from the Big Island. It was fished – in fact, this morning. When they dropped off the fish, they were still bouncing. That’s how fresh it was. That kind of freaked me out. It was cool, but it kind of freaked me out.
You’re recording your first album now?
I am. I’m recording my first album. If you go to guyrubino.com, there’s some music there you can listen to, and a music video.
What’s it going to be called?
The band is called B.M.D., which stands for Breaking Me Down, and the album is going to be called My Little Black Book, which is a little black book that I own, that I wrote all the lyrics on, that I always had stashed in my home.
You play the drums. Do you sing too?
In the band, it’s a four-piece band, so live, I play the guitar and I sing, but when we’re in the studio, I played everything.
What are the similarities between creating food and creating music?
It’s very much a self-expression. Again, it’s a mood driven thing. Topics can range. They both try to tell a story. With all the dishes that I create and the music that I write, there’s always a point. There’s always a beginning to an end, and nothing is the same. There’s a sense of originality, but still trying to stay in the pop vernacular. I think we’re sort of an indie pop band. We’re sort of something in between the Strokes and the Killers, that kind of sound. We’re edgy, but we’re still in the pop vernacular at the same time. I think my food is like that too. I think we hit the notes that we need to hit, but at the same time it’s different than traditional Japanese cuisine.
What was the first dish that you ever remember making?
The first dish I ever remember making, I think I was maybe 11 years old, and I remember coming home from school, and I had an hour for my lunch hour, and I made chicken cacciatore, like an old classic Italian dish. From that day, I would never eat in the school cafeteria again. I would always walk home and make my lunch and walk back to school.
It must have worked out pretty well the first time then.
Yeah, it did. It was fun, and I would sit there and the Flintstones were always on. I remember that, vividly, I would prep as fast as I would can and then sit in front of the TV with a little bowl and watch the Flintstones, and then clean up and go back to school.
What was the first night like in a professional restaurant kitchen?
It was hell…