Chef Charles Tutino Interview
(Chef at Capsouto Freres Restaurant in New York)

Charles Tutino, the chef at Capsouto Freres Restaurant in New York has been proclaimed a “rising star” by the James Beard Foundation.
Charles graduated with a degree in economics from New York University and worked for the Exxon Corporation and then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York until he decided to leave a career in finance to pursue a career as a chef. He also enjoyed reading the cookbooks of Elizabeth David, Julin Child, and James Beard as well as cooking and creating dishes for his family and friends.
He decided the best approach to becoming a chef would be to apprentice in a professional kitchen, rather than to train at a culinary school. So, he made the rounds of the Top French restaurants in New York City.
Among the restaurants he applied to was the legendary La Cote Basque, newly re-opened by Jean-Jacques Rachou. Rachou, impressed by Charles’ enthusiasm and determination, hired him as assistant (comis) to the night poissonier (fish chef) at less than one third of his salary in finance.
During his six years at La Cote Basque, he rose through the ranks, working every station in the kitchen, ultimately including those of poissonier and saucier, the two most important positions at La Cote Basque.
Under Rachou’s classical guidance, Charles was able to bring innovation to the cuisine including the introduction of natural reduction sauces and eliminating roux’s.
In 1986, Charles Tutino became the Chef at Capsouto Freres Restaurant.
We spoke with Chef Charles Tutino about his rise in the restaurant business.

Q – Chef Charles, The New York Times called Capsuto Restaurant, “charming”. What makes the restaurant charming?
A – Well, we’re in a landmark building that dates to 1891. It’s a warehouse that’s been renovated. The upper floors are apartments, but, the ground floor is a restaurant. It’s an unusual building for Manhattan. It’s in a Dutch-style, so it really stands out. We’re in a warehouse district and most of the other buildings I would say look like Civil War type (buildings)-----the Neo-Roman classical style. Sort of flat, square boxes made out of brick. But, this one is a beige brick and it’s got little gables on top. Right off the bat, it’s set apart from the whole neighborhood. And inside, it’s got very tall ceilings. There’s a lot of space between the tables so people have a very comfortable feeling. It’s brick-lined walls. I think that’s what makes it charming. The inside contrasts so much to the outside.

Q – The restaurant has been there for how long?
A – Since 1980.

Q – And how long have you been there?
A – Since 1986.

Q – You believe food is for eating. Are there some chefs and restaurants that prepare food just to have you marvel at it?
A – As in everything, I think you’re gonna find that people have different approaches. Some people are gonna have a more cosmetic approach, not to say they’re ignoring the taste aspect of it, but, the more cosmetic you get , the more I think the taste suffers. Our approach is to present the food simply. It’s not just put on the plate. There is an eye to it. There is a feel to it. But, the focus is on the food and the simpleness of it. When we do a grilled fish, we save it with accompaniments. We’re doing a wild-striped bass now. We’re serving it with purnted potatoes and a raspberry vinegar sauce. The fish itself is just plainly grilled. And then the sauce and the accompaniments compliment it, as opposed to being blanketed under a sauce or trying to do some unusual presentation with it. We always try to have a simply grilled fish on the menu. We do a roast duck where we take regular Peking ducks and we roast ‘em very well, with herbs and garlic and ginger. We keep them on the bone when they’re heated up for the customer and we bone them just before they’re put out so they stay moist and crispy.

Q – Do you make all of the jams, breads, pates, sausages, ice-creams and sorbets from scratch?
A – Well, that’s what we’re here for. We’re not here to be a retail store. We buy the rolls that are served with dinner, but, the ice-cream is made here and the sorbet. We make a bread for the eggs benedict. We make a black bread for the salmon, the smoked salmon we serve. There’s almost nothing out of a can. Occasionally of tomatoes are not available, we’ll open a can of tomatoes. But, the idea is to do everything from scratch.

Q – That has to be terribly time consuming.
A – It’s time consuming, but, that’s what we’re here for. The Sous Chef Chef comes in at 7am and he stays ‘til 4pm. He starts making the sauces. We start getting things ready on the cold side. Get apples and peel them. We try to keep four flavors of sorbet. When we start to run low, we pick up another flavor and try to be seasonal. We don’t really buy purees. You can buy frozen purees for the sorbets. We go with whatever fruits are in season. Right now, pears are in season, so, we’re making a pear sorbet. In the summer there’s raspberries and strawberries and blueberries. And now, also citrus, because the winter. So, we start with lemon sorbet, orange sorbet. We’ll make a grapefruit marmalade and a lemon marmalade and a pear jam and a quince jam for brunch.

Q – What time does the restaurant open?
A – Lunch begins at 12 and goes to 3:30pm. Dinner opens from 6 to 11 during the week, and till midnight during the weekends, Friday and Saturday. Sundays, it’s back to 11 again.

Q – Would you say that making everything from scratch is what separates Capsouto from your competition?
A – Well, I would hope so. Our grapefruit marmalade is much lighter. It’s not as sweet. The ice-cream here you couldn’t buy this ice-cream. We make it with egg yolks, cream and milk. So, it’s very rich and satisfying. We try and do unusual cream now. We roast pumpkins and we sweeten them with sugar and molasses and cinnamon all spice clove, not mace and vanilla and then puree that and then add that to the ice-cream to get a pumpkin ice-cream. We’re serving that with cinnamon butterscotch sauce. So, the combinations are a little bit unusual. We try to pick up things that you wouldn’t be able to get other places.

Q – You were a stockbroker before you became a chef?
A – Well, I worked at the Federal Reserve Bank which is not a regular bank. I was in the government securities department. The bank has a regulatory function and it was the government bond dealers. They had to file reports and we had to check the reports and make sure everything was o.k.

Q – Why did you leave?
A – A lot of people use that position as a stepping stone to go into the government bond world or to become a broker. I figured if I was gonna spend my whole life working I should do something I wanted to do and cooking seemed to be something I wanted to do.

Q – How did you know that?
A – Oh, I liked to do it home. I didn’t do anything formal as far as culinary education, and I took a chance. I just sort of went around and knocked on doors of restaurants to see if I could get a job.

Q – Has your background in finance helped you at all in the kitchen?
A – It doesn’t hurt. It’s a little bit arcane to this. What we were doing there is not something that’s really relevant to running a business. We’re not doing re-purchase agreements or buying back government bonds that we don’t own. (Laughs). So, it’s not really relevant to this, but, like my experience it comes in a little bit here, a little bit there.

Q – You knocked on doors of the top French restaurants in New York looking for work. What type of work were you looking for?
A – Just to start. Just to get in the kitchen.

Q – What were you told?
A – I went to the Four Seasons but, they didn’t have anything open. I went to Le Caravelle and talked to the chef there, but, he didn’t have anything open. I was lucky I went to La Cote Basque and Jean-Jacques Rachou had just bought it and opened it, so, he needed people. He staffed his kitchen with Americans. He needed somebody at a very low level. He was intrigued I think by the fact that I came in and said I was willing to work for nothing. He paid me, but, to start at the bottom. I started as a comis position which was as an assistant to the night poissonier, the person who cooks the fish. And, I had to peel the shrimp, and clean the scallops and chop the onions for him. I got to work on the line from the first day, helping him. So, I was thrown right into it.

Q – Was it always in your mind to open your own place?
A – Well, I think there’s always that desire to open your own place. I think it’s in the back of every chef’s mind. It just depends when the opportunity is there.

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