Besides being really, really ridiculously good-looking, the massive, bi-level restaurant Rouge Tomate serves food as nutritious as it is delicious. Executive chef Jeremy Bearman works closely with a full-time nutritionist to create a locally sourced, seasonal menu that's light and refreshing but won't scare off eaters with big appetites or a lust for meat. Rouge Tomate is not a vegetarian restaurant by any means—entrees include a Grass Fed Lamb a la Plancha with Polenta Cake, Fava-Mint Purée, Spring Beans, Sauce Vierge; and Long Island Duck en Sous Vide—but there are more than enough seafood and non-meat options to satisfy a broad spectrum, and meticulously-prepared cocktails like the Mint Julep (served in a classic pewter julep cup) may put you off Cosmos for good. On Saturday nights through Labor Day, the restaurant, which is located steps from Central Park on East 60th Street, is offering half off the wine list and half-priced cocktails in the downstairs lounge from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
There's an entire philosophy behind the menu, isn't there? The whole concept is based on food that makes you feel better about yourself and more energetic, with local and sustainable products. We deal with probably close to 60 or 70 different farmers, especially in-season. We have some really great relationships with them. In terms of fish, we're really trying to use sustainable ingredients, local when possible, but more importantly, sustainable when it comes to fish. A lot of my sous-chefs all have worked in California as well, so we all have a farm-to-table approach to cooking. Let the ingredients shine on the plate.
So you were already part of this school of thought before you were involved in Rouge Tomate? I was definitely of the farm-to-table mentality, and I think that came from working out in California for a bit. I've always felt it's important to cook within the seasons. I've obviously done some cooking that was not like that, which was frustrating sometimes. But I've definitely been a proponent of that for a long time. The nutritional part of it is definitely new to me. New as in, the past year we've been working like this. Now it feels commonplace.
Have you changed your eating habits since starting at Rouge Tomate? Oh, definitely. You could sit there and say, "Maybe he's just saying that because he works there," but I really can't remember the last time I cooked with any butter or cream at home. I don't really cook that much, but I do cook once in a while. My wife's a pastry chef and obviously she uses some sometimes when she does things, but I really don't. When I go out to eat, I order things off a menu that are going to be a little bit lighter. Again, I hate that feeling—and I get it more often now—when I go to places where there's really heavy food. I just don't feel well afterward. Like, I actually feel sick from a lot of that. So, I try to eat healthier in terms of food that's just lighter. Maybe it's not always healthier, but it's lighter. It's something that's not going to be so heavy there.
Was it difficult to adjust to working with a nutritionist? Do you ever want to throw in a stick of butter when she's not looking? No, no. The reason myself and a lot of my sous-chefs took this was that it's something different. It's a challenge. You could ask me a year ago what it was like, and yeah, it was difficult. You looked at them as restrictions. Now, however, I don't look at them as restrictions at all. I look at them as parameters which we work in. It's sort of a norm, now. My dairy bill on a daily basis is a couple of hundred dollars a week, which is crazy for a restaurant of our size doing the business that we are doing. My produce bill is beyond belief.
Again, it's very different from other places I've worked, and we did use a lot of cream and butter. It was definitely a tougher transition, especially coming from Lark Creek Steak and Robuchon and Daniel. In the end, it makes you more creative and brings out creativity in you. It's like looking in your refrigerator at home when you don't have a lot in there, and you say, "Okay, I've got this and this and I have to make something out of it." Obviously, it's on a much larger approach and we have so much that we can use, but you really start to realize how much butter and cream and things like that really cover up flavors. They can add them to things and, yeah, it gives it more richness, but you can get some of that richness from different things that you would never think you can get them from, but you would also never try them if you didn't have some of those parameters to work within.
You know, we finish soups sometimes with olive oil. I was just downstairs a second ago and we were making a chilled corn soup. We were using buttermilk in it, low-fat buttermilk, and it comes from one of our farms and it's wonderful. It's got a little bit of jalapeno in there, it's got a little bit of Greek yogurt at the end—we use a 0% Fage yogurt—and it's amazing you would think there's probably cream in there. It's creamy, it's got that consistency, it's got that texture, it's got that flavor, you know? It's rich. But at the end, what most people say to us when they leave, what I think is the most important thing, is that they felt better than when they came in. They felt less heavy and full and they still eat an appetizer, an entree, a dessert, and don't feel that sort of gut-wrenching... I know I feel like that a lot of times when I go out to eat.
When we talk about preparing, we talk about how we prepare things, how we can take the nutrients we're getting in these products and maintain it or add to it. There's different cooking methods that we use. We don't use any grills, we don't use any fryers here. We use a lot of planchas for our cooking, which allows us to use less oil, hence, obviously, you get less fat in your food. We also recently obtained our license for cooking sous-vide, so we do a lot of sous-vide cooking as well. Are you familiar with it?
Yes; I remember reading that some restaurants were getting busted for that. You actually have to go through the Health Department and follow a full HASS guidelines when you're doing it. There's only a handful of restaurants that have actually gotten their permit. There are some that do it illegally, but most—I think there's 9 or 10 that actually have their license to do it. We use a lot of sous-vide cooking, which is basically cooking in an airtight environment. Basically, they're plastic bags that you put the food inside, you close the bag up, you use a Cryovac machine to suck out all the air, and then you use either a combi oven or an immersion circulator, which is an instrument used for keeping the temperature at a precise degree. We can cook things at that precise temperature which is what the chicken is cooked perfectly at.
So I could put a piece of chicken in there—it's a water-bath inside the pouch—put in some herbs or whatever else you want to put in there. It retains the flavor, it retains all the nutrients, because there's nowhere for it to go. It also gets cooked perfectly every single time, because it's very easy to do. This machine regulates the temperature for you and then you just pop it out of the bag, you sear it on the plancha for a second, and it gets really nice and crispy. There's a lot of different things you can do with it. We use a lot of different techniques. A lot about how we store foods here is different than other restaurants, like keeping oils out of light, things like that. We make a lot of things ourselves, like we make our own vinegars instead of buying and a lot of that kind of stuff. There's a lot to do.
The enhancement, the last part of it, the E in S.P.E., is really where Natalia, who's my staff nutritionist, comes in. We work hand-in-hand together so that basically all the recipes I do go through her. She also has a culinary background, so a lot of the ideas are passed by her as well, so we work hand-in-hand together. Some of the creation is done with myself and my sous-chefs, but it also goes to her and she gives us tips. Basically she works with the enhancement part, which is the synergy of food. This food is great by itself, it's great by itself nutritionally, but you add them together and they're even better for you. Or they're quicker into your bloodstream. That's the technical part of it, the added value, the enhancement part of the SPE.
It all sounds a bit complicated, but it's really very simple when you're actually doing it. What it delivers is food that is lighter and makes you feel better and gives you more energy. It's better for you, and in the end, you only look at these issues when you put them through analysis—she puts it through everything on the computer analysis—you end up getting lower calories, as well. Most of our dinners—an appetizer, entree, and dessert—are going to come in around 800 to 900 calories, which is much less than you're probably going to have even in an appetizer and dessert at a lot of restaurants, because of some of the things that you use or the combination that they have.
You're saying the entire meal is less than that? The entire meal will usually come in around anywhere from 800 to 900.
Not bad! Yeah. At the beginning, when you have bread, you usually have some sort of vegetable spread instead of butter, instead of olive oil. You usually have a little bit of olive oil in it, but it's not completely olive oil. A little amuse bouche is included in there as well—a small bite. I'm sure you probably have a palate cleanser, as well, for dessert. It's a very unique concept to New York. How many restaurants in New York have a nutritionist that works with them on their menu?