Interview with Chef Michael Romano of Union Square Tokyo

March 2012

StarChefs.com: Why do you think the Union Square Cafe has had such success over the past 10 years?

Michael Romano: I believe the success comes from the founding vision of Danny Meyer. To have a place where the main thing is to offer hospitality. We make it our mission. People are well received, they feel like they're coming home. They feel like we are really trying from the time they pick up the phone to make reservations to alter dinner.

SC: That includes the hospitality as well as the food?

SC: Well I see the food and the wine and the service as subsets of this hospitality. That is the way that we manifest this hospitality. But what we're in is the business of hospitality. It's our main product here.

SC: Obviously it works.

MR: Yeah. I think that's the reason why just two weeks ago we celebrated our tenth anniversary.

SC: What are three kitchen tools you cannot be without?

MR: My Milsono high Cartoon Swedish steel knives with ebony handles. A heavy duty blender with a metal mixing cup. And black steel pans that are great for sautéing. They need to be seasoned so they don't stick.

SC: Who inspired you to cook?

MR: Probably the first inspiration was my mother and grandmother then the extended family of aunts. And that was because I saw that very intimate connection between loving and caring and food. Nobody ever got together where food wasn't a prominent part of it. I would watch them cook. It was a labor of love.

SC: It sounds like your restaurant.

MR: That is what we try to do here. My theory is that the act of eating is a very basic & intimate thing. We have many conventions for having to eat food. So if you are made to feel very uncomfortable, you are wearing the right thing, you're not ordering the right wine, you're not in using the right fork, you're not sitting the greatest seat then the actual ingestion of this food becomes difficult. It's hard because your body is tense.