Chef Guy Reuge bashfully claims that he used to lose his temper in the kitchen, but it’s hard to believe.
Reuge, 66, the bespectacled executive chef of the Lessing’s Hospitality Group and one of Long Island’s most storied cooks, has a pristine French accent and a boyish, slender frame. Despite a long, impressive and very French resume, he’s incredibly humble. The man once cooked for Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (before he was president of France, but still) and yet Reuge doesn’t mind occasionally washing dishes.
He’s also not above an intermittent trip to Dunkin’ Donuts for a custard-filled confection, though he protests: “I don’t abuse them, because it’s not good for me.”
That he has ever been angry with anyone seems impossible. But he’s only human, and one day, back in the ’70s while he was forging a career as a Manhattan chef, he says he brazenly confronted a complaining customer.
“I take a fork and a knife, and I go to the table and I say to the customer, ‘Excuse me sir, but is there something wrong with the salmon I cooked for you?’” he recalls. The customer alleged the salmon was undercooked. Reuge chopped the fish in half and inspected its insides.
“I said, ‘Sir. This salmon is perfect!’ and he said, ‘OK.’” He bursts out laughing as he recounts the customer’s nervous reaction. “I don’t do that anymore.”
Nowadays, he splits his time between Mirabelle Tavern at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook and the Sandbar in Cold Spring Harbor.
Reuge was born in Saint Lô, France, but grew up in Orléans (the old one). From a young age, he was intrigued by the American way of life, he says. In 1973, a 21-year-old Reuge came to New York, where a bustling blend of culture and cuisine was happening all over Manhattan.
He cooked his way around the city, occupying different functions in several restaurants. He assisted with the opening of a quaint bistro called La Tulipe, on West 13th Street, which enjoyed much success from 1979 until its closure in 1991. He also got his hands dirty in the kitchens of Le Plaisir and the iconic Tavern on the Green in Central Park. He was in it now, all the while fantasizing about opening his own “resto.”
In 1983 he did just that, and for 25 years, Restaurant Mirabelle in St. James was the successful embodiment of Reuge’s culinary mastery. In 2008, the Lessing’s group approached Reuge and asked him to merge businesses and move his restaurant a few miles north to historic Stony Brook.
“Years ago, we were looking to make a change at the Three Village Inn — a sort of revolution. Or, in this case, a French revolution,” says Mark Lessing, executive vice president of restaurants at Lessing’s. “Guy Reuge’s talent, passion and culinary pedigree seemed the perfect fit. Today, this award-winning executive chef is still the hardest-working guy in the kitchen, bar none.”
The menu at Mirabelle, which is seasonally altered by Reuge, boasts the freshest ingredients he can source locally. This winter, guests can expect earthy, high-end French dishes like choucroute garnie (cabbage with sausages and other salted meats) and cassoulet with duck confit (a rich casserole with baked beans). Other items of note, Reuge says, are the tavern burger (an 8-ounce custom blend of meat with Reuge’s bacon-onion marmalade and cheddar cheese) and oysters from Fishers Island, which Reuge contests are among the best in the U.S.
Reuge insists on constantly reinventing his menu, and himself. Putting in 60 to 70 hours a week, it’s easy to understand why someone in his position might start eyeing retirement, though he has no interest.
“As long as you are healthy, I don’t see why you would retire,” he says. “I don’t get it.”
Asked if he ever opts to spoil himself and cook an elaborate meal for one, he says: Nope, never.
“The pleasure of cooking is for other people,” he simply says. “It’s like drinking wine. You know, I love wine, I belong to a wine group where we meet every month and we taste wine and we talk about it. Wine is sharing. Food is the same.”
Mirabelle Tavern is located at 150 Main St., Stony Brook. It can be reached at 631-751-0555 or lessings.com