Chef Thomas Rougey’s path to becoming the executive chef at The Landing in Ocean Beach is anything but typical.
For starters, unlike many chefs who begin their career at culinary school, Rougey, now 32, learned working at his father’s restaurant, Emerson’s in Babylon, when he was just 18.
“I learned to cook on the job, while cooking for my dad in his restaurant,” he recalls. “That was my training…I didn’t go to any fancy culinary school.”
However, Rougey likely had a leg up on other chefs anyway, coming from a country known for its fine cuisine.
Born and raised in France, Rougey, who came to the U.S. in 1998, says he is a third-generation chef who progressed from a pantry line cook to a sous chef. He finally landed the role of executive chef at several venues including East Hampton Point Restaurant and Hotel, Verace in Islip, and True American Kitchen in Mineola.
Rougey, who originally planned to be a computer programmer, says that he doesn’t regret not going to culinary school.
“My on-the-job training was definitely better than going to a culinary school, I mean, I moved up the ranks in the kitchen quickly,” he recalls. He mainly used skills he learned early on. “Cooking, for me, was a natural thing. It was in my blood, even though I didn’t realize it until I was doing it daily.”
Calling cooking “too hard a job to not love,” he says that, fortunately, once you can navigate one kitchen, you can figure out the rest.
“The various systems of cooking in the kitchen change little from restaurant to restaurant…only the atmosphere and size of staff…large kitchens just have more hands to control,” he says.
As executive chef of The Landing for the past year and a half, Rougey has helped to rework the venue’s menu a bit, keeping the spot’s seafood staples such as calamari and sushi but adding a French flair.
Rougey says he’s generated good buzz with specialties such as surf and turf, a homemade turkey burger, and from-scratch pastas that he learned to make growing up in Nice, France, which is only about 30 minutes from Italy.
Patrons of The Landing also seem pleased with Rougey’s light-style French cuisine.
Belinda Rubino wrote on Facebook that the “surf and turf, the sushi, beet salad, and a white Cheddar, applewood smoked bacon burger were all prepared to everyone’s delight. Executive Chef Thomas Rougey satisfied my restrictive [gluten-free] vegan dietary needs with great flare, by serving a perfectly cooked crispy skinned salmon entree, delicate asparagus and miniature zucchini sauteed in olive oil.”
Rougey, who enjoys the laid-back atmosphere of Ocean Beach also says that working in the U.S. compares favorably with his native France.
“Work-wise, I like the U.S. better for opportunities than France,” he explains. “I like the way the U.S. handles business. People seem to be hungrier to work here.”
The Landing at Ocean Beach is located at 620 Bay Walk in Ocean Beach. It can be reached at 631-583-5800 or thelandingob.com