Moving from Egypt to the U.S. at age 6, Christiane Gehami, chef-owner of Arugula Bistro in West Hartford, had no interest in cooking. But she loved to eat. “My mom is a divine cook. We never ate out growing up. My mom packed my lunch every day and I ate breakfast with my father before leaving for work,” she says. Gehami didn’t even know how to boil an egg, but she was destined to become a chef.
In 1978, she earned a degree in French literature and music, enrolled in Manchester Community College to pursue a paralegal career, worked at Aetna and met her future husband. “This is where my life completely changed,” Gehami says. Three months before her wedding, her mother taught her how to cook simple dishes. “I had a notebook and wrote every word she said. As soon as I married, a transformation engulfed me, and suddenly, I was my mom! My husband and I ate breakfast together, packed our lunch and I had dinner on the table when he got home. I loved it.” Cooking was her true calling. Gehami enrolled in a culinary arts program at MCC and began working in the industry, including the Bee & Thistle Inn in Old Lyme, in Aetna’s corporate kitchens, and alongside a caterer.
Befriending fellow chef Michael Kask, Gehami and Kask opened an eight-seat restaurant in West Hartford’s Oneta Gallery in 1996. “I came up with the name Arugula, my favorite green, wrote up a simple menu, and developed a following,” Gehami says. The art gallery closed, but Gehami and Kask stayed, remodeled and reopened in 1998 with 56 seats. “Twenty-two years later, Mike and I are still behind the stove, loving it.”
Arugula serves dishes featuring Middle Eastern, Northern Italian, and French flavors. The filet mignon of tuna reflects the restaurant’s innovative menu. “The spinach and tomatoes sautéed with garlic and coriander is a very distinct Egyptian flavor. From there, Michael added the sesame-crusted tuna with the glaze. He’s a huge fan of Asian and Indian flavors, so this is a combination of our flavors,” Gehami says. “The warmth of the spinach plays well against the ‘fatty’ texture of the tuna, and once the glaze is made, it’s extremely quick to put together.” If there’s leftover tuna, Gehami suggests slicing it thinly over salad for a light lunch, and if there’s leftover spinach and tomato, toss it with pasta and parmesan.
Gehami gets excited when she can recreate a flavor from her childhood. “Food is memory, and the more you remember, the better it tastes,” she says.
Christiane Gehami and Michael Kask’s
Filet mignon of tuna
Yield: 4 servings • Time: 40 minutes
(Prepare the glaze first)
- 3 chopped scallions
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated or minced
- 2 cloves of garlic, grated or minced
- 2 shallots, grated or minced
- Hot pepper flakes, to taste
- 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- ¼ cup hoisin sauce
- 2 cups teriyaki sauce
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
Whisk all ingredients for about 2 minutes, place in a covered container and put in the refrigerator until ready to use. It will keep for one week.
- 1¾ - 2 pounds fresh tuna (cut into filet portions)
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 4 tablespoons canola oil
- ½ cup sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin and
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander (mix together)
- ½ ounce pickled ginger (found in grocery store’s specialty food section)
- Black pepper, to taste
Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil for each tuna filet to a medium sauté pan and heat on low.
In a small bowl, mix together the panko, cumin, coriander and pepper. While the oil is heating, coat the tuna pieces in the panko-spice mix.
Cover the tuna pieces with the sesame seeds, covering the tuna as completely as possible, then dredge in panko.
Place the tuna pieces in the pan and sauté for 2-3 minutes on one side, creating a golden-brown coating. Flip the tuna over and sauté for another minute. This will make the tuna rare to medium rare. A rare tuna takes about 2 minutes per side to cook; a medium-rare tuna 3 minutes per side.
Drain the oil from the pan and ladle the glaze directly over the tuna in the pan.
Spinach and tomatoes
- Baby spinach, blanched and held (four handfuls)
- 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 4 teaspoons minced garlic
- 4 teaspoons lemon juice
- 4 teaspoons canola oil
- Black pepper, to taste
- 4 teaspoons ground coriander
- Heat a sauté pan and add the oil. Sauté garlic until golden.
Add tomatoes and sauté one minute.
Add lemon juice, ground coriander and black pepper. Continue cooking for another minute.
Add spinach and toss everything together.
Mound the spinach mixture in the center of a wide bowl.
Place the tuna filet on top of the spinach-tomato mix.
Ladle a little more of the glaze on top (make sure it is warm).
Top with pickled ginger.