When he was doing a two-month cooking stint at chef Alain Passard's famed three Michelin-starred restaurant L'Arpege in Paris, American chef Christopher Remaley resorted to couch surfing and even bunking in the boiler room of a park occasionally.
"I refused to ask my parents for money at that time as I was determined to make it on my own. I would wash my hair in public restrooms," he says.
He then moved on to other cooking stints, including opening his own restaurant in 2005, the now-defunct Rib Restaurant in New York City. He has also worked as a private chef to celebrities such as American actor Robert De Niro.
"I became a private chef because it was really a 'right time, right place' opportunity. Working for Mr De Niro was interesting and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I got to travel all over the world with him and cook while I was at it," he says.
The gruelling hours took a toll on his health, making him feel lethargic, and he lost his appetite.
He met nutritionist Berthsy Ayide, 35, in New York, who introduced him to juice cleansing. "It completely changed me energy wise. I was happy because I was doing something healthy for myself, although I felt that it was not very palatable."
He came to Singapore in July 2012 and decided to set up Rejuicenate, a business specialising in organic cold-pressed juices.
"I came to Singapore with my wife as she was offered a job here," he says. "I saw a void in proper juice cleanse programmes here." They have no children.
Located in Cashew Road, Rejuicenate was launched in January. It offers three different types of juice cleanses. These last three or five days and prices start at $320.
Remaley, 38, uses his chef training to make sure the juices taste good. Ms Ayide, who consults from New York, answers queries that customers may have about the cleanse programmes.
Customers can choose to have their juices delivered to their doorstep for $20 a trip, or collect them at the shop.
The idea of using organic produce in his juices started when he was young. "Since I was eight, I would spend most of my summers on my grandma Rose's farm in Pennsylvania, where she would grow vegetables without the use of chemicals or pesticides."
It was his late grandmother who sparked his culinary odyssey.
"My love for cooking started with her," he says. "I would be in the kitchen cooking with her. My fondest memory was when she would use a steak knife to chop celery, and I was like, 'How do you do that?'"
What is your fondest memory of cooking when you were younger?
When I was eight, I mastered the grilled cheese sandwich. It is simple but I was young and I thought it was really cool. It's all about not getting it black or brown, but getting it perfectly toasted.
Is your family supportive of you switching jobs?
Yes, my wife is very supportive. I do my best to run this place like a commercial kitchen - everything is labelled and sanitation levels are very high. I don't feel that I'm too far away from a kitchen.
What do you miss most about being a professional chef?
I miss the hustle and bustle of it. That's the beauty of a restaurant, it's like conducting a symphony. That's one thing I can't duplicate at Rejuicenate. Here, it's very zen and therapeutic.
What is your food philosophy?
To eat locally. I don't like to eat anything that comes from too far away. Eat fresh, eat local. It goes back to when I was young and on the farm with my grandma.
What is your favourite cuisine?
I love Thai cuisine. The flavours are just so vibrant and fresh. The flavour profiles are so amazing. My favourite dish would be an authentic Thai basil chicken by my mother-in-law.
What are your plans for Rejuicenate?
The next stage of Rejuicenate would be to offer food. I see this in the next four to five months, hopefully sooner.
Any thoughts on making sauces or ice cream?
I love cooking fish at home. Instead of making a sauce with chicken stock or butter, I would take some carrot juice home, add some Thai basil and reduce it till it's a sauce consistency. It makes a beautiful sauce.
How do you ensure taste is consistent in your juices?
With the nature of organic produce, the components change. For example, one week, the kale we get may be super juicy, or another week it may be drier. It is essential that I taste everything to ensure that it tastes good.
What makes your juices different?
We use specific varieties of fruit, for example, sugarloaf pineapples or ruby queen beets, and they are all 100 per cent organic. They are always brought in in small batches to ensure optimum freshness. If we are short of a specific ingredient, I will work with the nutritionist to ensure that the replaced ingredient still meets the nutrition value of the juice.
Would you consider yourself a health nut?
I wouldn't go that far, but I take health very seriously. At the end of the day, I'm still a chef. I like to enjoy food and new wines in moderation.
How would you spread your meals out for the week?
I would eat sensibly five days a week, cheat a day and then have a juice cleanse the other day. A sensible diet would be to have a green juice in the morning, followed by a salad with a protein and dinner would usually be a fish. It has been a good balance for me.
What is your holy grail juice?
I would say the Mean Green. It is the most detoxifying, chlorophyll laden juice. It has lots of greens, such as kale, celery and romaine lettuce, along with a tiny bit of apple to take off the bitterness.
What is your favourite ingredient in juicing?
Apples go well in a lot of juices. I don't practise mixing too much fruit with vegetables, as the acids in the fruit kill the enzymes in the vegetables.
Any vegetable you would avoid in juicing?
I drank bitter gourd juice a few days ago and I think it wouldn't work well in a cold- pressed juice platform because it's quite an acquired taste, and I haven't had the time yet to tweak a recipe to make it palatable.
This article was published on May 11 in The Straits Times.
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