Chef Ruben Rodriguez Blending Heritage & Modern Flavors

Nai Restaurant Group
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Discover the Gastronomic Journey of Nai Restaurant Group's Founder

Unlock the culinary secrets of the East Village with the latest Chef AF episode, where we sit down with the innovative Ruben Rodriguez, the celebrated chef and owner of the Nai Restaurant Group. This conversation promises an inspiring journey through Rodriguez’s early roots to his thriving restaurant empire in New York City's vibrant East Village.

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A Culinary Tale Worth Savoring

Born in a small town in northern Spain, Chef Rodriguez shares the tapestry of his culinary journey, weaving a story that begins with intimate family food gatherings and his early exposure to the world of gastronomy through his mother, a skilled chef herself. With a foundation rooted deeply in the rich Spanish heritage of Galicia, Rodriguez embarked on a culinary adventure that led him to the bustling kitchens of New York City, providing him with both purpose and direction.

Crafting a Legacy in the East Village

From his first venture, Nai, to the recently inaugurated Kōbo, each restaurant under Rodriguez’s belt tells a unique story. Nai, translating to 'Mother' in Galician, pays homage to his mother’s unwavering skills and traditional recipes, offering a platform where cuisine and culture dance in a delightful, dynamic symphony. Each restaurant in the Nai Group is a testament to Rodriguez's commitment to presenting food that resonates with his heritage, mirroring his life’s journey and the flavors he encountered along the way.

Beyond the Kitchen

Rodriguez's narrative is not just about opening and running restaurants; it’s a tale spun from challenges and triumphs, fearlessness, and continuous learning. Despite his lack of initial experience and financial stability, Rodriguez highlights his relentless commitment to his craft, learning the ropes of restaurant management, nurturing long-term staff, and evolving his personal style to reach creative maturity.

The Vision Behind Kōbo

With Kōbo, the newest gem in the Nai Restaurant Group, Rodriguez unveils a menu that is a confluence of his travels through the Mediterranean and a nod to his Spanish roots. The restaurant, boasting a minimalist design, accentuates its offerings, celebrating simple ingredients and soulful cooking that honor Rodriguez’s Galician heritage. Whether it’s the signature Fideuà or the homemade sourdough-topped Mortadella, each dish is a canvas painted with Rodriguez's vision and style.

Embodied Philosophy

Rodriguez's philosophy goes beyond the plate, deeply ingrained in passion, effort, and a steadfast commitment to excellence and customer service. With sustainability at the forefront of his sourcing strategy, Rodriguez supports local suppliers while fostering a supportive ecosystem within the restaurant industry. As he reflects on his 23-year culinary voyage, he remains open to opportunities that align with his passion, always striving for excellence and advising aspiring chefs to be brave, patient, and surrounded by honest and supportive partners.

For those ready to embark on a culinary adventure, the Nai Restaurant Group awaits in the East Village with doors wide open and aromas inviting, ready-to-serve plates sprinkled with tales, flavors, and the magic of Chef Ruben Rodriguez. So, next time you find yourself in New York, let your senses guide you to Nai, Amigo, Emilia, or Kōbo, and let your soul feast on a culinary journey like no other. For more, visit their website and Instagram pages, and immerse yourself in a world where food is love, heritage, and an unending celebration of life.

Recipe: Fideuà

Fideuà, a pasta form of paella from Spain’s Valencia region made with squid ink, octopus, baby squid, and saffron.

Ingredients:

  • Calamari (tube and tentacle)

  • Tomato

  • Onion

  • Garlic

  • Peppers

  • Leek

  • Paprika (de la Vera preferred)

  • White wine

  • Squid ink

  • Angel hair pasta

  • Saffron

  • Tomato paste

  • Sugar

Steps:

  • Step 1 - Make a Fondo (it’s a paella sofrito) - Slowly cook all your veggies, towards the end add a couple of hairs of saffron and adjust the salt. Set aside.

  • Step 2 - Break the pasta into small pieces, place in a tray, and toast in the oven. Once toasted, set aside.

  • Step 3 - Fine chop onions and cook slow with garlic, - once they are cooked add the calamari and tentacles (make sure they are as dry as possible) turn on the heat as high as possible to eliminate water content and prevent calamari to shrimp too much.

  • Step 4 - Add white wine and a bit of broth, and slowly cook until for about 15 minutes.

  • Step 5 - In small brown add 2 tablespoons of squid ink, 1 of tomato paste pinch of sugar. - Mix with a bit of hot water - Add the calamari and finish cooking until tender, but with a nice texture. - The calamari should not be falling apart.

  • Step 6 - Drain broth and set calamari aside

To make the fideuà a Paella pan is a must

  1. Add Olive Oil to Paella Pan

  2. Add a spoonful of fondo

  3. Add a cup of toasted pasta

  4. Add the calamari you have previously cooked

  5. Cover, set aside, and cook at medium heat until the Fiduà is about 75% done, and then place in oven

You will know it’s ready when it becomes dry and the pasta looks like it is standing up.

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Chef & Rare
Chef & Rare
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Lisa Pepe