Chef Nikhil Abuvala’s love of cooking began in his grandmother’s kitchen, before she could even reach the kitchen worktop. He would sit on a chair and help his grandmother roll out the fresh Indian flatbread, admiring the way he moved around the kitchen picking herbs and spices for various dishes. “I got to spend a lot of time with my grandmother when I was very young,” Abuvala said. “Cooking with her in the kitchen was so fun and so special.”
A few years later, Abuvala’s parents enrolled him in a sushi-making class for his thirteenth birthday. “I was the youngest person there,” he told him. The chef who led the class was thrilled to have such a young and passionate student in his class and asked Abuvala if he wanted a job. He started working there a few weeks later. “I started working in restaurants when I was 13 and never stopped,” he said. In college, he studied music and ended up with a degree in economics, and it was only by working for a chef that he realized he could make a career out of cooking. He went to cooking school and never looked back.
Abuvala is the owner and executive chef of Roux 30A, a tasting menu restaurant, and Nanbu Noodle Bar, a Japanese restaurant that showcases southern ingredients, both in Grayton Beach, Florida, along scenic Highway 30A. Both restaurant concepts highlight the different cuisines and cooking styles that Abuvala has learned through his travels around the world, which have taken him to nearly 30 countries.
“When I first opened Roux nearly 10 years ago, I knew I still had a lot to learn, so I traveled,” Abuvala said. “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 kitchens and ask if they needed help. It worked pretty much every time. ”Abuvala’s tenacity has led him to the kitchens of restaurants around the world – Peru, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Argentina and the Philippines, to name a few – and has offered invaluable information that informs his menus. today.
Abuvala’s travels became the inspiration for her Around the World dining series, which began about eight years ago and will return next month. The idea was that he would go to a country and bring back the food. He started with 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 only take place twice a month and reservations are required, just like Roux’s evening tasting menu experience.
Creating the menu at Roux 30A, which changes weekly, starts with the ingredients. “Let’s look at what’s in season, then let’s create a rough pattern for the next few weeks,” Abuvala said. She estimates that they create 12 menus per season. “Let’s start with the vegetables first and then move on. The great thing about being on the coast is that we have easy access to all of this fresh fish, so the protein is pretty straightforward. We always want to have some sort of appetizer, shellfish, fresh pasta, something from the sea, something from the land and, of course, dessert ”. Once they get the list of ingredients available from local farmers, fishermen and meat suppliers, Abuvala and her team further refine the menu.
As one of the only tasting menu restaurants in town, Roux 30A stands out. A reservation-only system means they know exactly how many people are cooking for that evening, but the tasting menu format isn’t without its challenges. “We need to make sure that our quality and consistency are always there, no matter what happens,” Abuvala said. “As we grow and expand into new locations and restaurants, we need to make sure we maintain a level of quality and if something goes wrong we take full ownership.” Upcoming projects include an expansion of the Nanbu Noodle Bar, called Nanbu Too, which will open later this summer at Destin Commons’ City Food Hall. Abuvala’s fourth adventure will be a concept tiki in Seaside, one of 30A’s most famous neighborhoods and a pioneer of the New Urbanism movement. The unnamed concept is estimated to open in December 2022.