Last week I had the pleasure of dining at Rouge Tomate with the fabulously brilliant and incredibly talented Natalia Rusin, Rouge Tomate’s R.D. and Culinary Nutritionist.
Tell me about Rouge Tomate’s Philosophy bringing food from farm to table.
At Rouge Tomate we adhere to SPE ® a culinary and nutritional charter used by myself (Registered Dietitian) and Jeremy Bearman (Executive Chef) to create optimal cuisine (food that is delicious and good for you). Our charter advises us to source seasonal and local products as often as possible to ensure the best and most nutrient dense produce and products.
How do you seek out your Rouge Tomate farmers? Is there a specific criteria/ guidelines they must meet/follow?
Prior to the restaurant opening at the end of October in 2008, we called different local farmers with a list of questions from our “green consultant” on what to ask about their farming practices. For instance; were they composting, use of pesticides, what livestock was being fed and how they were being kept, etc. We are always searching for the best product available.
Tell me about your work with Rouge Tomate.
At Rouge Tomate I make sure that Jeremy and his staff are adhering to the principles of SPE ®. I conduct nutrition analysis on all dishes on our menu, research quality ingredients to incorporate in dishes, ensure balance in each dish, put together a scientific committee to help us keep our SPE ® charter current in the ever changing world of nutrition and help to spread the word about our healthy sustainable cuisine.
I would love to hear your view on how your chefs ‘heighten the nutritional value of each dish.’
We heighten the nutritional value in each dish by careful selection (and omission) of ingredients, utilizing safe cooking methods that preserve or heighten nutrient absorption, creating nutritional balance and food synergy on each plate. Before I approve a dish I try to find ways to make the dish more nutrient dense.
I love the ambiance of Rouge Tomate, it truly is a ‘soothing retreat’; I feel as though I have escaped for the afternoon to a spa.
The designer of the restaurant Bentel & Bentel, incorporated feng shui throughout the space.
How does the S.P.E. system fare with New Yorkers?
Some of our customers are here because they are seeking out healthier fare, while others have no idea about the health aspect of our cuisine.
What is your favorite dish here at Rouge Tomate?
Our menu is always changing as we use local produce/products. A dish rarely last more than a month or two. My current favorite dish is our Local Cippino (an Italian style fish stew).
Tell me about your previous work as a personal chef.
I actually still currently cook for my clients from time to time. I have been doing this for 7 years now. My personal beliefs on healthy cuisine are the same as those that we use here, SPE ®. I use the best ingredients that are in season. I focus on fruits and vegetables first, and rely on their flavor rather than using high fat sauces.
What intrigued you to become the Culinary Nutritionist for Rouge Tomate?
It was a very unique position; I had never seen a job posting like it. Given my culinary background as a registered dietitian I thought I would be a good fit, and I would really enjoy this type of work.
Can you elaborate on your culinary development work with CulinArt Incorporated, (a boutique dining service company)? Did this lead to your interest in Rouge Tomate?
I basically held the same position at CulinArt, but on a larger scale for many corporate cafeteria dining outlets on both the east and west coasts. I created healthy eating programs, instructed chefs on healthier cooking, and provided nutrition to consulting to customers.
What have the reactions been to your unique and synergistic culinary creations?
Many of our clients love the extensive measures we take to provide them with well and strategically balanced dishes. We have many loyal customers who dine with us frequently for this reason.
I’ve heard numerous complements about your mixologist, Rainlove Lampariello’s beverage program here at Rouge Tomate—can you tell me more about his juice bar as well as alcoholic beverages?
We create and select our beverages with the same philosophy we apply to our food. We have juicers behind our bar so that we can juice local seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs for use in beverages and food. We have non-alcoholic cocktails, low-alcohol and standard cocktails. We try to add the best possible ingredients into our cocktails and limit added sweetener (we use agave for the low glycemic index and ability to dissolve in cold liquid). One of my personal favorites is the Green Tornado. We juice spinach, butter lettuce, fennel, basil, and tarragon and add it to mulled mint and fresh lemon juice and then add a touch of agave. It is such an amazingly refreshing drink! Our wine list includes many organic and biodynamic selections and we also choose organic hard alcohols as well.
What is your personal food philosophy?
My personal food philosophy is very similar to that of SPE ®. I cook from scratch and avoid processed foods. I focus on produce/products that are in season or raised or grown in the best possible manner. I also rely on simple flavors rather than burry food in high fat sauces. I do use rich ingredients like cheese, bacon, ice cream and red meat from time to time but always practice portion control. I was a chef before I became a dietitian. If food doesn’t taste good than no one will eat it. It’s fun and challenging to create healthy and delicious dishes. I believe that a diet should consist of 75% of foods that are known to be good for you, what your body needs and the other 25% is for enjoyment.
Of the reviews I have heard so far, your portions are unlike the tiny tid-bits you would expect at a spa, can you elaborate on how you devise these healthy portions for hearty appetites?
We focus on seasonal produce first when coming up with a dish. We use portion control when using richer ingredients and limit them on our menu. We also avoid cooking with butter and cream in appetizers and entrees. In doing this we are able to provide adequate nutrients with appropriate calories and the size of our dishes is normal.