CULTURE

Chef Roze Traore Fills His Food With Style and Ivorian Sensibility

The Eleven Madison Park alum is quickly becoming a fashion mainstay; Dior has tapped him to head-chef the 2022 Guggenheim International Gala.

by Cole Brown

Chef Rose Traore in the kitchen
Photograph by Bradley Ogbonna

Roze Traore is hard to miss. He’s a 6’5” model, for starters, and usually dressed in a well-tailored suit, an ascot knotted around his neck. Plus, he’s a celebrity chef who flexes his culinary skills on TV and in regular contributions to NYT Cooking. Traore, a Seattle native by way of New York, cut his teeth in the food world’s most hallowed halls—Le Cordon Bleu, The NoMad Hotel, and the one-time World’s Best Restaurant, Eleven Madison Park—before striking out on his own to cook for the likes of Rick Owens and the late Michael K. Williams. His journey put him in kitchens across London, New York, Paris, and, most importantly, the Ivory Coast, where his family finds its roots.

Now, he’s building his brand as a creator at the intersection of food and fashion. Dior recently asked Roze to head-chef the 2022 Guggenheim International Gala. On November 9th, the annual star-studded event will honor 95-year-old American painter, Alex Katz—and the menu, curated by Roze, will feature elevated ingredients like dry-aged ribeye, chanterelle mushrooms, and poached quince.

I caught Roze ahead of the gala to discuss his influences, ambitions, and to answer W’s Culture Diet questionnaire.

How does your Ivorian heritage influence your work?

The cooking I do introduces different cultures to each other in a way where I can tell a story on the plate from the Ivory Coast. The Ivory Coast is all about seafood; my dad was a fisherman. It’s all about spices and smoking meat—and if you want to talk about the French roots, it has those rich flavors. That’s where I get my inspiration: lots of traveling, lots of putting myself into communities I’m able to learn from.

You’re the child of immigrants. Did your parents’ efforts to create a better life influence your ambition or work ethic?

My work ethic came straight from my mom. She didn’t let anything stop her. She came from the Ivory Coast with the ambition of opening a hair salon, and we grew up seeing her work so hard to bring her business to life. If there’s a lion in her, then I inherited it. That also plays a big part in surviving in the restaurant world. You just got to keep it pushing.

The fine dining world is notoriously white. Were there any challenges being a 6’5”, dark-skin, Black guy climbing the ranks in that world?

I wouldn’t say “challenges.” I mean, it’s a challenging industry, yes. But if I was the only Black man in fine dining kitchens during that era, I used that as my motivation to do it for my peeps, be the best at it. There’s still a slight intimidation when I walk into these environments. But I carry it on my shoulders saying, “I’m going to just demolish this.”

I want to talk about the gala. Are you allowed to tell me what’s for dinner?

We have a meat and potato dish, a vegan dish, and dessert. It’s still on the hush, but I can tell you I’m excited about this vegan dish. It’s cauliflower three ways. That’s fun because it’s all about “how can I get the most out of this cauliflower?” It’s a gallery, so colors were very important to me, matching the aesthetics with everything that you’ll be viewing from Alex.

What does the process of converting visual inspiration into something on the plate look like?

I had the great pleasure of just sitting and analyzing Alex Katz’s work and falling into it. It aligned with my motto: “simplicity is key.” But there’s so much detail and perfection in it. That’s how I like to approach my food. Alex’s work is delicate; it has a lot of colors. I wanted to add that to my dishes. You could sit and just look at your dish. It helps you process things and understand each ingredient. With all art, you try to find something within it that traces back to you.

Let’s get to these Culture Diet questions. What time do you wake up in the morning and what’s the first thing you do?

I wake up at 5 or 6 AM and the first thing I do after brushing my teeth is have some tea. Then I sit in the living room for a bit in silence. That’s my routine. I like to sage the house every three days, too.

Do you remember the last movie you saw in theaters?

Damn, it’s been a minute; I can’t even remember the last movie. But I have been on that whole Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon vibe through this last season.

What kind of music do you listen to when you cook?

Lots of jazz. “Kind of Blue” from Miles [Davis]. Something like that is on constant repeat. And there’s some Kendrick [Lamar] in there, too. Those two are the top “me” vibe.

What’s the last concert you went to?

I went to The Revivalists concert at Red Rocks [Amphitheater in Colorado]. It was so awesome because, obviously, of how historic Red Rocks is. The acoustics are crazy. Everything echoed, and it was such a high-energy environment. The band was awesome. It was healing for me.

Do you believe in Astrology?

I’m a heavy Astrology guy. I’m a Virgo.

What books do you keep on your bedside table?

I keep mine on the shelf. I can tell you the ones I’m looking at right now: The Eleven Madison Park book, the NoMad book, and Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden.

What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?

I just look at more art. I do a lot of research behind art; it’s something I like to do in my downtime. So, at the end of the day, if I’m not watching a show, I’m scrolling through art. Depending on the weekday, I may drink some wine or some scotch as a finisher.