Maybe you know Rōze Traore by his picture. Maybe you know him by his food. The Le Cordon Bleu alum has had his fair share of successes in both the culinary and modeling worlds, with stints at the NoMad Hotel and Eleven Madison Park in New York City, an invite to cook at the James Beard House, and modeling gigs for Nike and other notable designers and companies. He's also dabbled in the private chef life and, thanks to his unique combination of food and fashion, has an ever-growing Instagram audience.
Traore’s not even 30, and he's only just started shaking up the food industry and changing the definition of who and what a chef can be—even if the coronavirus pandemic has shifted some of his plans. We caught up with this stylish chef to ask him about his funky blend of cuisines, top travel destinations, and how food and fashion intersect in his life.
Rachael Ray In Season: How did you get started cooking?
Rōze Traore: Cooking, for me, has always been in the family. My dad was all about getting us acquainted with our culture and where we came from, which is the Ivory Coast. He cooked a lot of traditional dishes. When I graduated from high school, I needed to figure out what I wanted to do as a career, and the closest thing I could relate to was food. So I thought, "What is the best school where I could get the fundamentals behind cooking?" and I landed on Le Cordon Bleu.
Where did modeling and fashion come in?
After I graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, I decided I wanted to move to D.C. and work at one of the best restaurants there at that moment, which was at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. That was my first introduction to fine dining. After working under that chef for some time, I decided I wanted to move on and check out a few other spots. I heard that New York would be another awesome place to learn more about the food scene, but I also heard that it was a great fashion zone, and I've always had some interest in fashion. I started getting booked for some modeling jobs, and I realized that the food at the shoots was something that could’ve been better. I would engage with the casting directors and tell them, "Hey, I can also cook, and it’s what I actually enjoy doing a lot more." That was my introduction to the private world. Then I decided I wanted to step foot in the Michelin world. So I worked at the NoMad for a year, then Eleven Madison Park for a year, then continued back on my journey as a private chef.
What do you enjoy about being a private chef?
When you hear "private chef," you automatically think someone is cooking at your house. That was always boring to me. I wanted to separate myself from that stereotype. I just prefer, and build myself around, creating bespoke events around the world. That is how I continue to grow, and those are the clienteles that I continue to acquaint myself with because they have high expectations and they appreciate the food more. It’s a whole different world.
You were planning to open a pop-up restaurant in NYC before the pandemic hit, right?
Yep, right before this. It was at Chefs Club. It’s crazy how we were planning all this, we heard that there was a virus happening, but we were still planning ahead on what we were going to do for the next three months, not knowing this was going to happen. So it’s on pause. It was going to be a three-month residency.
Are you still hoping to do the residency in the future?
It is something I’m going to do in the future. This whole experience has actually been positive, though, because it’s given me more time to engage with my audience, to figure out what needs to happen and not necessarily what I want to happen. It’s given me time to come up with more recipes and really just figure out what I want to happen next. I’m definitely going to have a residency in the near future, but I think the fact that I was able to acquaint myself more with my audience and understand the food that I’m constantly surrounded with—because I have more time—that’s been the most beautiful thing about this whole experience.
I creeped on your Instagram. It looks like you’ve been making a lot of delicious meals during quarantine!
I didn’t have time for it before because it does take time, and now I’m able to sit down and really think about these ingredients and dishes. I’m thinking of different ways and creative techniques to make fine dining in an approachable way. That’s one thing that’s really important to me.
How has your cooking style changed while stuck inside?
I wanted all the ingredients I used to be accessible to the day-to-day home cook, but I’ve also been focusing more on techniques and understanding the process. For example, I’ve been working on my brining solutions. When it comes to a whole chicken, you brine the whole thing so the salt and aromatics can really enhance the flavors within the chicken. But then you also air dry it because that is what helps it get really crispy. I’m usually running around day in and day out, but actually getting the time to sit and think about the techniques—I think that’s really helped me.
What are some of the non-food things that have kept you going during this time?
I’ve actually been writing a lot on future book ideas. I’ve been exercising a lot more using the Peloton, which is something that I had prior to this, and it would just stare at me the whole day and I would just not get on. So I finally got into that. And just continuing to find ways to express myself in a creative way has been really important, not only for myself but also for those watching because it does impact them.
You’ve been sharing your support for the Black Lives Matter movement on Instagram recently. What are some ways we can amplify people of color in the food industry, now and continuously in the future?
Everyone is rushing to support African American chefs, which is amazing, but the other thing I want to highlight is that we should also be showing off chefs that aren’t necessarily that African-American stereotype, which is southern food or African food. I grew up on some African food, but I didn’t grow up on southern food. I think showing more faces from the African American community within the fine dining world is something that can really be impactful. Also being active within the community is something that shows a lot of support. But generally showing more faces within the fine dining world that are African American is something that needs a push because it’s hard to find them. There are chefs like me that are adding in their own twists—I learned fine dining and French cuisine, but I managed to introduce different cultures to each other while still keeping it at that high caliber. There's not many that are doing that, but they’re out there.
Speaking of blending cuisines, how has your background and the various places you’ve lived and traveled inspired this palate?
My adventures, the traveling (when I was able to travel, of course)—to be able to go to Venice and experience what a really good octopus tastes like, that is something not a lot of people get to try. To really get a sense of what fresh Italian olive oil or tomatoes taste like, that’s something that I always keep in mind when I’m creating a dish. It’s how I can introduce and merge all these countries, places, cultures together on one plate and have it taste delicious.
When we are able to travel again, what destination is at the top of your list?
I'm aiming at Japan. I think Japanese culture is amazing and the food is delicious. There’s a lot of finesse to it. But I want to continue traveling. I’m the type who will go anywhere just to get a different perspective on not only life but culture and cuisine as well. That enhances my palate and my knowledge, which I can pass on to the world.
How do food and fashion influence each other in your life?
There really isn’t anyone in the middle of these worlds—I’m the bridge. I have the blessings to continue to rise within the culinary world and also be acquainted with the fashion who's-whos. For example, at fashion industry events, I find myself being the only chef there. I take pride in educating and showing these people what the culinary world is about and continuing to entertain them through food. I also take a little touch back to the culinary side and show them it's okay to express yourself, it’s okay to be vibrant. There are different outlets to becoming a chef other than working in the kitchen. I’ve been able to bridge these two worlds by bringing different people onto my team, and we are able to go on these cooking adventures. That’s my biggest mission.
Let’s end with a couple rapid-fire food questions. What’s your desert island meal?
Have you ever had just some really, really good tacos? You know, they’re so good, with small tortillas—something juicy like that. I don’t eat too much beef, but I’d have an amazing chicken or steak taco.
Go-to late-night snack?
I’m big on ice cream. I could do half a pint in a session, which is like 20-30 minutes max. The worst thing is sometimes it’s coffee ice cream, so that just keeps you hyper while you’re eating it. Vanilla, coffee, and caramel are my top three.
Favorite childhood meal?
Braised whole fish with plantains.
That sounds amazing.