Enjoying success and acclaim as a chef and restaurateur means many things. Hard work, financial strain and management issues are some of the hurdles that need to be conquered in order to see the dream of a successful restaurant come into reality. The dream itself may be what determines a favorable outcome. Having a clear vision of what the end result will be can be the key to a winning result.
Maguy Le Coze is the heart of Le Bernardin, our restaurant in midtown Manhattan. In 1986 she, along with her brother and chef, Gilbert Le Coze moved to New York from Paris to open the restaurant but the dream of Le Bernardin was born long ago. Growing up in a 200-person village in Brittany, on the Northwest coast of France, Maguy and Gilbert learned the life and skills of a restaurateur from a very young age. The Le Coze family operated a small restaurant inside a hotel. Maguy would work alongside her mother in the dining room, greeting guests, taking orders and cleaning up while Gilbert worked in the kitchen with his father. They specialized in the freshest seafood that was brought in by their grandfather who worked as a fisherman. It was a thriving family business and Maguy’s vision for Le Bernardin grew from her young life there. Maguy and Gilbert eventually moved to Paris where they opened a 25-seat restaurant that featured fine seafood and elegant but comfortable service. They would eventually earn two Michelin stars but the vision was still expanding and Maguy knew that someday she and Gilbert would follow their dream to New York. For the past 24 years, New York’s Le Bernardin has been heralded as one of the top restaurants in the world and I am proud to work with Maguy as the chef and partner in the business. Her dedication to great service and impeccable taste carries over into the customer’s experience and is as important to what we do here as what comes out of the kitchen. Maguy’s vision continues to grow and change and her commitment to keeping Le Bernardin contemporary and relevant ensures that we never rest on our laurels and remain mindful of what goes into our success—our dream.
There are of course many other people who have created and maintain restaurants that provide exquisite food and hospitality. One of America’s great culinary destinations is Chef Patrick O’Connell’s Inn at Little Washington. I had an opportunity to visit the Inn and to spend the day with Patrick and learn about how he has fulfilled his dream. Located in rural Virginia, Patrick found the tiny town of Washington, Virginia which seemed to be stopped in time with much of it’s late 1700’s architecture still standing. Patrick fell in love with the town and he had a vision of creating an Inn that was reflective of the great country Inns of France. His true commitment and vision was exposed when he transformed a gas station and auto garage into what is now one of the most exquisite Inns in America. Patrick’s work in the kitchen is rooted in tradition but he is always looking for new ways to present the food from his Southern region. Long before the farm to table movement became as popular as it is today, Patrick was forging friendships with farmers and artisans to provide great regional products. His personal sense of style and warmth, coupled with his expertise and talent as a great chef is the perfect example of how a dream and hard work can turn into a highly successful combination.
While visiting with Patrick in Virginia and while listening to Maguy speak of her vision for Le Bernardin, I was reminded of some of my early dreams and goals as a chef. In this episode I will show you how to make a recipe that is the first dish I ever created that made it onto the menu at Le Bernardin. When I started at the restaurant, I worked as Chef de Cuisine for Gilbert Le Coze who was an important mentor to me. I had some ideas of my own that I wanted to present to them for consideration for the menu. At first, Maguy was not open to the dish but I kept working on it and trying it out and eventually it became a popular item on the Le Bernardin menu. The black bass with porcini mushrooms and port and sherry reduction holds a special place in my heart and is a symbol of my dream of becoming an Executive Chef and restaurant owner coming true.