For Chef Nikhil Abuwala, travel is the perfect cooking teacher

Chef Nikhil Abuwala’s love of cooking began in his grandmother’s kitchen, before he even reached the kitchen countertop. He would stand on a chair and help his grandmother roll out fresh Indian flat roti, admiring the way he collected herbs and spices for various dishes in the kitchen. “I got to spend a lot of time with my grandmother when I was young,” Abuwala said. “Cooking with her in the kitchen was so much fun and special.”

A few years down the road, Abuwala’s parents signed him up for a sushi-making class for his 13th birthday. “I was the youngest person there,” he said. The chef leading the class was thrilled to have such a young, enthusiastic student in her class and asked Abuwala if he wanted a job. A few weeks later he started working there. “I started working in restaurants when I was 13 and never stopped,” he said. In college, he studied music and earned a degree in business, and didn’t realize he could pursue a career in cooking until he worked for a chef. He went to culinary school and never looked back.

Abuwala is the owner and executive chef of Rooks 30A, a gourmet menu restaurant, and Nanbu Noodle Bar, a Japanese restaurant that highlights Southern ingredients, both located on scenic Highway 30A in Grayton Beach, Florida. Both restaurant concepts highlight the diverse cuisines and cooking styles Abuwala has learned through his travels around the world, which have taken him to nearly 30 countries.

“When I opened Rocks about 10 years ago, I knew I still had a lot to learn so I traveled,” said Abuwala. “Nobody would approve my CV because I couldn’t stay long enough in these restaurants, so I would knock on the back door of their kitchen and ask if they needed help. It worked out great every time.” Vietnam, Thailand, Argentina and the Philippines, to name a few – and provided valuable insights that inform his menu today.

Abuwala’s journey became the inspiration for his Around the World dinner series, which began nearly eight years ago and returns next month. His idea was to go to the country and bring back food. He started in Morocco, then India and continued from there. This fall, Roux 30A’s Around the World dinner series will make three stops: India, France and Greece. The intimate five-course dinners will take place only twice a month, and reservations are required—just as they are for Roux’s nightly tasting menu experience.

Crafting the menu at Roux 30A, which changes weekly, starts with the ingredients. “We look at what’s in the season, then we make a rough outline for the coming weeks,” Abuwala said. He estimates they create 12 menus per season. “We start with the vegetables first and go from there. What’s great about being on the coast is that we have such easy access to all this fresh fish, so proteins are very simple. We always like to have some kind of appetizer, shellfish, fresh pasta, something from the sea, something from the land and of course dessert. After obtaining a list of available ingredients from local farmers, fishermen and meat purveyors, Abuwala and his team further refine the menu.

As the only tasting menu restaurant in town, Roux 30A stands out. The reservation-only system means they know how many people they’re cooking for that night, but the tasting menu format isn’t without challenges. “We have to make sure that our quality and consistency is always there,” said Abuwala. “As we grow and expand to new locations and restaurants, we have to maintain the quality level and if something goes wrong, we take full ownership of it.” On upcoming projects Includes an expansion of Nanbu Noodle Bar, called Nanbu Two, which will open this summer in the City Food Hall at Destin Commons. Abuwala’s fourth venture will be a tiki concept on the beach, one of 30A’s most famous neighborhoods and a pioneer of the New Urbanism movement. The Benami concept is expected to open in December 2022. has been done

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