Our very first COCOMan of the Month is Chef Roblé Ali. Chef Roblé has quickly become one of the most recognizable chefs as the star of Bravo’s Chef Roblé & Co. In Roblé’s professional career, he’s worked at NY’s premier caterer, Abigail Kirsch, alongside Chef Chris Santos at Stanton Social and Beauty & Essex, and also served as the Executive Chef at the exclusive nightclub, Avenue. A truly unique talent in the culinary world, Roblé is currently working on multiple projects that include a fragrance, wine, books, apparel, music and philanthropy.
Chef Roblé is also the guest curator of our “Beautifully Delicious” January box, where beauty meets food. So we sat down to chat with him about his relationship with beauty and food, his path to becoming a chef, and the inspiration behind his new fragrance, Clique by Roblé, launching this spring.
What first made you want to be a chef?
It was actually my mom’s idea. When I was graduating, I never knew what I wanted to do so she suggested I go to culinary school. She knew that I loved food and I was always handy in the kitchen and a good cook.
Were you helping your mom in the kitchen from a young age?
When I was a kid, I just liked to eat. So I figured if I wanted to eat well all the time I had to figure out how to cook. I picked up a cookbook at a book fair at school and I pretty much just taught myself how to cook, and gradually over the years got better and better. I had a couple of after school jobs in kitchens and ended up going to culinary school after high school.
Where did you attend culinary school?
I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. It’s like the Harvard of culinary schools. Again–my mom’s suggestion; my mom is the man (laughs).
What kinds of dishes were your favorites that she would make when you were growing up?
Nothing really fancy: she makes really good meatloaf, mashed potatoes, roasted chicken, cornmeal crusted fried catfish, blueberry pancakes—just simple American food. She makes a really good peach cobbler too. And her pound cake is legendary. If I’m making a pound cake, I’m definitely using her recipe.
Do you ever think you’ll create and release a cookbook?
Eventually, yes. I’m working on that right now.
From where do you draw inspiration for your unique culinary creations?
It’s hard to name just one place; all kinds of things can inspire you. Most of my inspiration comes from seasonality and ingredients–what’s available at its peak of flavor and at its best. It’s citrus season right now. A lot of people think the summer is citrus season, but it’s actually the winter when you get [the best] citrus fruits. So at this time of year: citrus, cabbages, root vegetables, brussel sprouts—all those things are in season.
What’s your process for creating a dish? Do you have in mind what ingredients you’re going to use for a signature dish? Do you test them out and come up with the best combination?
It’s simple. We kind of just make stuff up [by figuring out] what pairs well with whatever we have. You pick your star of the plate and then you can put things around it that compliment it. For example, morel mushrooms are in season right now and there’s a very short window of time that you’re able to get fresh morels. So you want to make them the star of the plate. You’ll want to pair them with things that are not going to outshine them or overpower them. I would do it with something like a codfish or a fluke–a light fish, as opposed to something like salmon. If you put salmon the plate, the salmon is in charge. It’s big bold flavor.
It’s an art. It’s hard to put into words. Words don’t even come into my head when I think about it [cooking]–I just do it. It’s just what makes sense. I follow instinct. I follow my gut.
What is your relationship with food as it relates to your health? Are you a healthy eater? What are some of your favorite superfoods? Do you eat organic foods?
I don’t eat nearly as healthily as I should. But I mix it up. Every other thing that I eat is healthy. I take fish oil tablets every other day. It really boosts your immune system. I also take vitamin D3 in the winter–I haven’t had a cold in 3 years—and milk thistle.
Turmeric is a superfood with lots of health benefits that not a lot of people talk about. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory agent and it tastes really good and adds a lot of flavor and color to food. I try to use as much turmeric as I can, as well as flax seeds. Quinoa is a great superfood and kale is chock full of vitamins. Those are things that I cook with.
I eat as organic as possible, but staple items like milk, eggs and butter that I cook with a lot are always organic. If I’m eating or serving chicken, its always organic and has no hormones! If I’m eating or serving fish, it didn’t come from a farm—I only serve wild caught fish.
Talk to us about Clique by Roblé, your new food inspired fragrance coming out this spring.
It wasn’t my idea, but once the people who proposed the idea to me explained it, it made a lot of sense. It’s never been done before—a chef making a fragrance—and once I thought about it I saw all the parallels between cooking/creating food and creating fragrances. In both cooking and perfumery, there are a lot of similar things: you’re working with a lot of the same ingredients, it’s about balance, and it’s a building process. It’s just like when I’m creating a dish: I know what the stars of the show are in Clique by Roblé and then we built around that. So once I made that connection, that’s what inspired me to go through with it, to learn about fragrance and really be involved on a day-today basis throughout the whole creation process.
How did you decide on the different notes that you chose for the final two options presented at your recent brunch?
They were actual recipes. One of them was a sparkling blood orange cocktail and [the other was] a dessert recipe—one of my favorite desserts: I call it French Toast Crunch. Those two recipes were the building blocks of the fragrances.
How do you want a woman to feel when she wears your fragrance?
I want her to feel confident, delicious, sexy and irresistible.
What is the most important thing you learned during the perfumery process about the relationship between beauty and food?
They’re both very sensory things. I would say… 80% of tasting something is actually the way that it smells. You’re [using your] olfactory senses.
As a busy entrepreneur, what keeps you sane when you’re in the midst of managing your kitchen, your business, your reality show and your personal life–how do you balance all of those things?
I have a lot of smart people that work with and around me. If it was left up to me it wouldn’t even be possible.
Let’s talk about what’s in your ultimate grooming arsenal—3 brands or products that you use that you would feel like less of a gentleman without?
I use Carol’s Daughter products. They own like 80% of the retail in my bathroom. The Monoi hair products—the shampoo, conditioner and leave in conditioner–are really nice. I like their hair milk, and the Lavender & Vanilla Shea soufflé.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know–upcoming projects, exciting news, etc?
I’m working on opening up a restaurant in the summer of this year in Brooklyn. It’s going to be very homey—a modern Brooklyn brownstone—it will feel like you’re eating in someone’s home. The food is going to consist of ‘greatest hits’–things that we’ve already proven to be crowd favorites in my catering company. We’ve have a big catalogue of stuff that we’ve come up with over the years so I’m going to make all that food available to the public. The first offering from a new line of wine will come out this summer as well. The first one is going go be a white but I’m also looking at things like a sparkling red, a rosé.