Who says slinging crack rocks or a wicked jump shot is the only way out the hood? Chef Roble has taken a most unorthodox approach to elevating himself out of a working poor social standing by choosing a profession not typically chosen by young black men.
As a child growing up in Poughkeepsie, NY he was able to side step a lot of the distractions that the rough neighborhood laid in his path. Upon graduating high school he attended the Culinary Institute of America not far from where he grew up. He’s been on the path for great things in his profession ever since.
Wutangclan.com caught up with Chef Roble at the Wu Tang Brand store in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and got to talking about his humble beginnings, career flourishing and his comical rap group, Food Tang Clan.
So you’re from Poughkeepsie.
Yeah but I think I was conceived on the New Paltz campus across the river [laughs].
Tell us about growing up there.
I moved around a lot actually. I was born in Poughkeepsie like I said but we moved down to Mississippi when I was about 5. We moved to Houston. Then right before 8th grade we moved back to Poughkeepsie. It was a bit of culture shock when I moved back because it’s Poughkeepsie High School was pretty rough at least when I was attending. My man Che Gravy he’s the first person I met in high school and we’ve been friends ever since.
How did the cooking passion start to formulate?
It actually started in elementary school because I always loved to eat. I’m Somali so I’m just naturally skinny so you can’t tell but I always loved to eat. I realized if I always want to eat well then I have to learn to cook. So that was the initial motivation. Once I started sharing my food with other people I noticed that it feels good to make other people happy. I enjoy giving people joy through food. It’s rewarding.
Let’s backtrack a bit. You said you’re Somali?
Yeah my father is from Somalia but my mom is from Philly. They met in New Paltz College. I’m a “Halfrican.”
Did that culture influence your dishes?
I won’t say that it did. There are a few Somali dishes that I cook but I wouldn’t say my African heritage has been a major part of my culinary experience.
You ever been?
I’ve been to Africa but I’ve never been to Somalia. Somalia is a very dangerous place. You have to go out there correct and that takes lots of planning. But I am going out there eventually.
Did you see that Tom Hanks movie about the Somali pirates?
I haven’t seen the movie yet but I plan to. I heard that it’s pretty fair and balanced. A Somali told me that it was pretty fair and balanced. Not like Black Hawk Down. That was complete bullshit. I can’t stand that movie. There weren’t even and Somalis in it. Can you at least hire some Somalis?
When did you start taking cooking seriously?
I would say in high school I had an after school job in a hospital in the kitchen. It was actually a mental hospital. It was interesting to say the least, cooking for these people every day. So that was first time I actually got paid to cook. It was crap food but whatever it was my introduction to a professional kitchen. I always had jobs around food. I worked at McDonald’s, IHOP…
Crazy. So how’d your decision to make cooking your career come about?
I barely graduated high school. I did get accepted to a couple of colleges but I didn’t want to go to college. My mom had the idea like “You’re very good at cooking. You’re in Poughkeepsie right across from the way is Hyde Park, NY where the Cia, the Culinary Institute of America.” CIA is like the Harvard of cooking schools. So it just made sense. I applied and got a conditional acceptance because I needed a little bit more experience. So I went and got the experience and got accepted. I almost finished but I got kicked out of culinary school.
Wow. Did you have problem getting work because of that?
Well, I just realized when I got kicked out I had to work really hard. So I came to the city and got a job right around the corner from here on Ludlow at a French restaurant. I had to bust my ass.
Did it pan out?
Yeah. Thank God I met Chris Santos. That’s my mentor, he put me on like an OG. We were at Beauty & Essex, we were at Suba, We were all over this area.
Was that experience more rewarding than culinary school?
Totally. Culinary school though was a great base for me to get introduced to the world of food and cooking. I never even had a proper steak until I went to culinary school. I had a medium rare steak and I never went back to overcooking my steaks. I had my first proper glass of French wine. CIA just opened up this world for me. In terms of actual cooking and grinding out working in a restaurant is the only way to really learn.
So how’d the TV show come about?
Chris Santos again hooked me up with these guys that were opening up a night club/ restaurant called Avenue. I was the opening chef there. So I was feeding A-list celebrities every night. There have been nights I had Jack Nicholson and Johnny Depp. When you’re doing that every night people start to page attention. So a couple of Page Six mentions and people come looking for you. I ended up signing with a talent agency and started a catering company. I figured if I could combine that with a TV show that’s like a big commercial for my catering company. Bravo liked the idea and it snowballed from there.
So what else outside of cooking is in the future?
I’m launching a women’s fragrance called Click and I’m launching a wine, Roble Wine. Been going out to Napa Valley, got good people around me so we’re going that’s going to be official.
What about Food Tang Clan?
[Laughs] That’s a parody rap group my friends and I started. We take classic hip-hop songs and flip them into songs about food. The album is going to be called Watch The Stove. So like for instance “F.R.E.A.M.” Food Rules Everything Around Me. Collard, collard greens y’all.