Something that is always exciting about Manhattan year round is the culinary adventure you can take in so many different parts of the city, cuisines, and more. My journey this past weekend took me deep into the East Village where I sat down with rising star in the culinary world Thomas Chen, at his fantastic and rave reviewed restaurant Tuome.
Thomas’ career into the culinary world had some unique twists and turns to get him to where he is today. Starting his career off in the financial arena as an accountant, he decided that it wasn’t really what he wanted to do with his life and spun his way into all things culinary here in the heart of Manhattan. Working at some of the most known restaurants in NYC, he sharpened his culinary knowledge and opened Tuome two years ago, to a great amount of fanfare and admiration.
Named one of Food & Wine’s Top 10 Best New Chefs, NYC area back in 2015, it is clear that Thomas has made the right move in his own journey and is considerably well today. I sat down with him this past weekend, amidst Tuome getting ready for the evening shift, and Patsy Cline playing in the background, to discuss his career overall and where he sees Tuome going in the future. Take a look.
I noticed that before you got into the culinary world you were an accountant. Why the drastic change from that to this?
Honestly, I was miserable working as an accountant. I love cooking but it was never in the back of my mind to be a career for me back in high school. So I decided to do accounting then I made up my mind to go to culinary school and get a career in cooking.
Where did you wind up for your culinary studies?
I went to ICC (International Culinary Center).
When you entered the culinary world, what was your first big gig?
I did my externship while I was still at school at Jean-Georges. That prepared me for everything going forward. New York City has so many amazing restaurants, and I wanted to work for the best, so it definitely helped me understand the reality of cooking. When you are in school you get to learn the fundamentals and they teach you some of the book stuff too but when you start to work in the kitchen is where you understand what it is really like working in a real cooking environment.
Outside of Jean-Georges, your culinary resume is quite spectacular coming from Manhattan institutions like Eleven Madison Park and Commerce. What inspired you jump ship and start your own restaurant?
Well, when I gave up accounting it was my goal to open a restaurant. That is why I pursued a career change, so I wanted to get the right experience, work at bigger places and smaller places, to really understand both sides of it. You definitely get a different kind of experience working at 3 Michelin star restaurants and restaurants that have 60 seats that are a small operation and you are understanding a small spectrum of the business. It was important for me to kind of gather all that information before I pursued my own restaurant.
Tuome has now been open for two years, which is considered a feat in the ever changing food climate in Manhattan. What do you attribute its success to?
I mean, especially in New York City nowadays the competition is hard. There are a lot of new restaurants opening and there are a lot of existing restaurants that are here. The thing is it is just important to be constantly relevant to what people are looking for and it is important for us to get guest feedback, put out great menu items, all those things are important to me even for me as a chef. I get the feedback from the front of the house because that is more valuable sometimes than the actual food itself. At the end of the day we are trying to deliver the best guest experience possible, and that is what matters the most.
Do the menus at Tuome change by the season?
Yeah, I change it by the season and sometimes I change it within the season. When I have a new dish and I want to replace, let’s say a fish or chicken one, I change it within season. We also do off menus, like tonight we have a Truffle off menu, and then last week we did a Stuffed Quail, so sometimes we do off menu items just to bring some more excitement.
What is your favorite item on the menu right now?
I would say the Lamb is one of our fall additions, but our Pig Out has also been one of our most popular “For Two” dish that we serve. I wanted to do another “For Two” dish, so I chose the lamb, and people are excited about that as well. Whenever you create a “For Two” dish, it must be interactive so that is what I tried to do with the Lamb. It is a lettuce wrap, the lamb shank is braised and fall off the bone so you put it on the lettuce wrap with the quinoa and the two sauces that we use. It is fun and that is the cool part about it, to create a dish that is not only playful but tastes good.
What is the biggest hope for Tuome moving forward?
Just continue to bring people in and get people excited when they are here. I think hospitality is a huge part of the restaurant industry, so not only does the food have to be great but the service has to be as well. I think we continue to bring that every single night here. I’m not only involved in the kitchen but the front of the house as well here, I oversee everything to make sure that the whole operation is running smoothly. I want to make sure that the guests leave happy and that we have repeated ones too. All of those things are put together to make sure that it is a successful business.
For more information about Tuome, check out their official site.