Name: Roy Villacrusis
Title: Executive chef
Food prepared: Asiatic cuisine
Background: Waking up to the smell of burning wood from the "dirty kitchen," a place where food was prepared with firewood instead of gas or electricity, is one of many childhood food memories for Roy Villacrusis. There was always a fish or chicken stock simmering on his Philippine grandmother's stove. He watched her daily, as she made homemade Philippine pastries and rice cakes. By the time he was in elementary school, he was butchering pigs. He showed the makings of a longlasting relationship with food, perhaps even a career.
Villacrusis jumped at the chance when in 2000 he was offered the corporate sushi chef position at Mark's City Place in West Palm Beach. He describes the experience as "an amazing opportunity that allowed me to develop my own culinary style and artistic interpretation."
In 2005, he was recruited to develop the menu for the Shibuya Japanese Restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. As master sushi chef, he had free reign. "The restaurant was built to impress. I had my own fish buyer in Japan. I could do anything, and it turned out to be a huge turning point for my career," he says.
A desire to own a restaurant brought him back to Florida. In 2007, he opened Kubo Asiatic Cuisine in North Palm Beach, to much hype. Villacrusis admits, "The critics loved us, the patrons loved us, but the location was really bad. After Vegas I had this 'build it and they will come' attitude. I thought, do it now or never at all. But that wasn't enough." Little working capital and a crashing economy forced the restaurant to close a year later.
A chance to "regroup" and a consulting project with Dirty Martini in Palm Beach Gardens followed, and a brief stint at Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton in 2011. He amicably parted ways, due to conceptual differences with partners.
Various pop-up dinners throughout Palm Beach County have kept him in the culinary spotlight. His latest being, The Studio, an intimate space of 16 seats, where he created an omakase-style tasting menu. Located inside Bangkok OCha, a friend's Thai restaurant in West Palm Beach, the space was available last year from June through December.
What's next? He vaguely hints at potential projects in the works. But for now, Villacrusis is holding off on jumping into any long-term commitments other than his upcoming December wedding in Thailand to fiancee, Honeylet Llagas.
Currently, he's planning a culinary sojourn that would make most chefs green with envy. Aside from coordinating an elaborate engagement dinner in the Philippines, in July he'll be working with a friend at an eight-seat sushi bar in Japan's Tsukiji Market. He's also scored a coveted reservation at 3-Michelin-star Tokyo restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, an exclusive 10-seat sushi bar situated in a basement next to a subway platform. Japanese chef Jiro Ono is considered the greatest sushi chef in the world. Reservations usually require up to a year in advance and start around $375 for a fixed menu of 20 pieces of sushi.
Q: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
A: Salty and sweet, I like to play with those.
Q: What's your most indispensable kitchen tool?
A: My knives. I'm a sushi chef before anything else, so I require precision cutting.
Q: What is your favorite cooking show?
A: I have to admit I don't watch the Food Network. But I do love Top Chef competitions. I was invited to participate twice. The second season I was in Vegas opening Shibuya and the fifth season I was opening Kubo. If I get invited again, I might go.
Q: Where do you eat when you're not working?
A: I don't eat out much locally. My wife-to-be loves my cooking. If we do go out, we search out the best places. Recently we went to Khong River House in Miami and Coolinary Cafe in Jupiter.
Q: If you weren't a chef, what do you think you'd be doing?
A: I'd be in some kind of artistic medium, probably television.
Q: Name three staples you have in your refrigerator at all times?
A: Wine, garlic and chocolate.
Q: Who do you consider to be the greatest influences in your career?
A: Definitely my grandparents and my mom. My grandparents had a restaurant before I was born. My mom cooked without rules and had a good flavor profile. But she made up crazy food. My grandmother made traditional Spanish and Philippine food and followed recipes. Growing up, I would play in the garden with my grandfather.
Q: Which comfort food transports you back to your mother's kitchen?
A: Cauliflower, she does a lot of dishes with it. First time I had it tempura-style, and she served with a Thousand Island dressing, and I didn't know what it was, but it was good.
Q: What are you passionate about outside of the kitchen?
A: Anything artistic, I enjoy photography, collaging, painting, wood carving, video. Every piece of art in my house is mine.
Q: The first thing I do when I get home is...?
A: Check what's in the fridge. I open it and see what's in there and sit in front of the TV thinking, what's for dinner?
— Claire PerezCopyright © 2015, CT Now