When it comes to chefs in New York, Guy Reuge is like a Bernie Williams. He may not speak in sound bites or nab splashy headlines, but his work is consistently exquisite and respected by the many who have tasted his cuisine, which often takes on a Franco-American style. His foie gras is smooth and flavorful, his fish filets light and flaky.
Reuge grew up in France before coming to the United States in the 1970s. After opening Restaurant Mirabelle, he ran it for 25 years in St. James. Then, Lessing’s Hospitality Group invited him to bring the restaurant to the historic Three Village Inn in Stony Brook, which was built in 1751. He accepted, and his work with the company later expanded to Simons Center Cafe and Sandbar.
Lessing’s will celebrate Reuge’s 10th anniversary January 15 through January 31 at Mirabelle Restaurant and Sandbar by treating guests to a complimentary glass of sparkling wine. Before he becomes the toast of the dining rooms, Reuge took time to speak with me about his career, work with Lessing’s and unintentional connection to the 2016 Presidential candidates.
Edible Long Island: Tell me a bit about your upbringing, and when you decided you wanted to become a chef.
Guy Reuge: I started to be interested in cooking when I was about 12 years old. I would help my mother cook the family meal on Sunday. With a lot of dedication, she would make beautiful dishes. When I was 14 years old, I decided I wanted to embrace this career.
ELI: During your military career, you cooked for a future president. How did that come about?
GR: At the time, [Valéry Giscard d’Estaing] was the minister of finance. In the early ‘70s, we were ordered to do military service. Because I was a chef, I was put in the right place to keep cooking. They sent me to a military academy in Paris. He would come to these classes once a month, and once a month I would cook for him.
ELI: What was he like?
GR: I personally never met him…My personal pride for cooking for someone famous was to cook for President Clinton.
ELI: Tell me about that experience.
GR: It was a fundraiser for his wife in New York. A good customer of mine invited him to come to support her. At the time, he was not president anymore, but he was still very fresh out of the presidency. He came, and he was very, very nice.
ELI: Where was it?
GR: The Trump Tower. <laughs>
GR: Dead serious.
ELI: That’s too funny all these years later. What did you make for them?
GR: This was before he went on his serious diet, and he loved meatballs. Just before he left, someone with him said, “The president loved the meatballs. Can you pack up a little bag for him?” So I did.
ELI: Moving away from politics, why did you decide to open Mirabelle, and how did you choose St. James?
GR: As a chef, you want to own your own business so you can do whatever you want. My wife’s uncle [offered to help]. I didn’t have any money at that time. I thought on it for two years because I was in New York and one day I said, “Let’s make a jump.” He wanted me to do it in the neck of the woods. I had to think about it. Two years later, that’s what I did.
ELI: How did you come in contact with Lessing’s and wind up at Three Village Inn?
GR: I approached the owners, who were the Lessings, and said, “I would like to buy the business.” They said, “Absolutely not.”… About three months later, the CEO of the company called me and said he had been thinking about our call and wanted to talk about merging our businesses…We made a deal, and part of it was for me to come to work with Lessing’s and be the chef here.
Since then, we have built Sandbar and a cafe at Stony Brook University…I love to be a part of a company that is creating new restaurants. It’s very rewarding.
ELI: How do you juggle it all?
GR: I try not to get involved with one place when I’m not at another. If I am going halfway here and halfway there, it is not good. It’s the best way for me to work.
ELI: What does your future hold?
GR: I want to stay as long as they want me here. I’m older, but I still feel as young as I can be to be doing what I am doing. I love to cook, move around.