NEW YORK - Raphael Francois has been treading a fine line between updating Le Cirque, the landmark New York City restaurant, and preserving its European fine-dining traditions since he became head chef in January.
The classically trained Francois, 35, is the latest in a string of talented chefs who have worked at the 40-year-old eatery. Some of them including Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, Bill Telepan, Michael Lomonaco and Geoffrey Zakarian have gone on to achieve success on their own.
Prior to Le Cirque, Francois was the executive chef at the Helene Darroze restaurant at the Connaught Hotel in London where he earned two Michelin stars.
Francois, who was born in Tournai, Belgium, spoke to Reuters about his move across the Atlantic and what makes a good burger.
Q: What are you bringing to Le Cirque?
A: My style has a very strong French basis. I also have to adopt my style to Le Cirque. My style matches with the environment. The flavor of my food is always classic.
Q: What reputation does Le Cirque have in Europe?
A: In Europe, it is known as a well-established restaurant and an institution in New York. When you are a European and you want to try a restaurant in New York, Le Cirque is one of those places you want to try.
Q: Why come to New York instead of staying in Europe?
A: I have always been a fan of America. When I was a teenager, I had an American flag in my bedroom. I have had the opportunity to visit many cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas. I have also spent time in New York. It was always a part of my dream to live here.
Q: What makes Le Cirque such a fertile ground for a lot of chefs?
A: When Sirio Maccioni opened Le Cirque he introduced so many different kinds of products, such a high level of service and French as well as Italian cuisine. The former chefs had the pressure to preserve its reputation.
Q: Why did you want to become a chef?
A: I'm from a foodie family and a foodie culture. We enjoy sharing time with friends and family. Food is one of the first things you want to share with people. When I was teenager I worked at a restaurant to earn some pocket money. Then I decided to go into business management and moved on the path I'm on now.
Q: What is your comfort food?
A: I like to cook for friends and family. I don't cook for myself. When I'm alone I like to have a cheese board, charcuterie and wine. When I'm off on a Sunday I like to eat brunch out.
Q: What is your favourite American food?
A: I love a good burger, when you go to a good restaurant where the bread is good, you have good tomatoes, good lettuce.
Pork Chop with Morel Mushroom and Fava Beans (Serves 1)
1 150-200 gram (5.29-7.05 oz) pork chop
30 gram (1.75 oz) morel mushrooms
80 gram (1.41 oz) fava beans
20 gram (1 oz) butter
Balsamic soy vinaigrette
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven at 176 degree Celsius (350 degree Fahrenheit). Heat an iron or oven proof pan at medium heat and add oil. Season the pork chop with salt. When the pan is hot and oil is close to smoking, brown the chop on both sides, about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes each side. Leave the chop in the pan and put them in the oven for 10-20 minutes or when the juice come out clear from the centre cut. Take the chop out when done and let it rest.
2. In the pan used for the chop, melt the butter over medium heat until slightly brown. Sautee the morels and fava beans until they soften. Season with salt , pepper and drizzle the vinaigrette.
3. Spoon the morels and fava beans in the centre of the plate. Place the chop on top.
Balsamic soy vinaigrette (Makes about 1 liter or 3-3/4 cups)
30 centiliter (1.27 cup) canola oil
30 centiliter (1.27 cup) balsamic vinegar
30 centiliter (1.27 cup) soy sauce
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the canola oil, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce until blended.
Note: The vinaigrette can be stored in the refrigerator for months. It can be used for salad or other dishes.