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The Art of French Cooking

Regional Influences and Timeless Tips from Local Chefs

Article by Mary Dougherty and other contributing writers

Photography by New Light Creative Services

Originally published in Ridgefield City Lifestyle

French cooking is an art that many of us strive to improve especially as we enter the colder months of the year. There are so many possibilities to create and discover new techniques and recipes. Ridgefield is fortunate to have a few extraordinary chefs who create phenomenal French food. 

We thought that we would talk to a few of them and hear their thoughts on French food and their craft. We also want to know some of their best tips to assure that your homemade French cuisine rivals theirs! The Chef at Lucs was invited but not available during the timeframe that these interviews were conducted. 

A' TABLE WITH SARAH + BERNARD

We spoke with Chef Bernard about his take on French cooking and the shift that he and his wife Sarah have made from operating one of Ridgefield's most prized restaurants to running their new store that offers takeout and catering options. 

Bernard grew up in Montauban which is in Southwest France where he was inspired by the local cuisine and his mother's cooking.  He came to the United States to work for Daniel Boulud at Le Plaza Athena. Sarah started cooking in a French kitchen in NJ and then went to France to do a three month Stage at a 2 star Michelin restaurant in Vichy. Bernard and Sarah met at Le Cirque in Manhattan where they both worked as chefs. 

Wanting to move to the suburbs they were looking for a restaurant with a house on the property (they had 4 small children at the time) in a nice community where they could be a part. When they found The Inn at Ridgefield it was perfect for them. After selling the restaurant, they wanted to stay in Ridgefield and open their store. Sarah and Bernard love Ridgefield!

Bernard says that the important thing with French cooking is 'to take the time to go through all the steps necessary to create the flavors and that starts at the beginning.' For example,  'taking the time to make the stock properly as its the base to so many other things.'  When asked what his favorite dishes are to create,  Bernard states that 'my creativity is spontaneous, I love to follow the season. I often get inspired when a local forager comes in with mushrooms - I immediately think, what can I do with this.' 

A few selections at A' Table that customers especially love are the  Ratatouille, Foie Gras Terrine & Truffle Pomme Dauphine - all things that you don’t really find anywhere else.

THE BENJAMIN

Executive Chef Ben Traver is Ridgefield's latest culinary inspiration behind the American-French inspired restaurant, The Benjamin, taking the place of Bernard's and Sarah's Wine Bar.

One would think The Benjamin is aptly named after Ben himself, but that is not the case. The restaurant is actually, and interestingly, named after Benjamin Franklin. One of the restaurant's partners, Rob Moss, explains the historical nod: “Ben Franklin was not only one of America’s founding fathers; he was also the first ambassador to France. He returned to America with grand tales of refined culture, sophisticated French wine and food. With this restaurant, we’re truly bridging the gap between two cultures.”

Traver grew up in Bethlehem, CT and has fond memories of cooking chicken and dumplings with his mother. After high school, Ben became a line cook at The Pantry/Meraki in Litchfield. Thereafter, he was hired at Cafe Boulud in New York City where he "climbed the ranks from Commis to Chef de Partie."

Four years later, he moved to The Modern, a two-Michelin star contemporary American restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in the city. The Modern’s kitchen was also structured in the traditional French brigade style where every chef is responsible for his/her own station. 

Restaurant partner Dave Studwell, along with Moss, met Traver through a mutual friend.

“Our mutual friend gave him such a strong recommendation that we met and he was hired on the spot,” said Moss. “Ben is calm and meticulous in the kitchen. He pays homage to the craft, tradition and flavors of French and American dishes like Roasted Half Chicken with English peas, wild mushrooms, tasso ham, and fines herbes chicken jus, Pan Seared Scallops served with roasted cauliflower, leek rondelles and brown butter caper sauce. These entrees are juxtaposed on the menu with French classics like Escargot Tartine, Tuna Tartare and Smoked Trout Rillettes”

BRASSERIE SAINT GERMAIN

We initially met with Frank Bonnaudet who is the owner and head chef of his chic, new Main Street French eatery. His passion for French cooking began as a child. He spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his mother which is where he learned the foundation of French cooking.  He then attended Culinary School in Brittany, France which is a gorgeous coastal spot on France's largest peninsula. It was here that Frank gained great appreciation for seafood such as oysters, sardines and mackerel. Saint Germain has a wide assortment of seafood dishes for customers to enjoy! 

Frank is also heavily influenced by his cooking experience at a ski resort in the French Alps where he worked for four years after he graduated culinary school. It was there that he gained appreciation and experience with fondue, raclette, and gratin dishes. Fun fact: Frank joins other local chefs two times a year on a skiing adventure with The Chef's Ski Club. This is not only fun but a way to network and socialize with other talented artists. 

Frank along with his fellow chefs who work alongside of him at his restaurant agree that one of the most significant differentiators in quality French cuisine is the time that is put into creating the food. Frank cited 'that a beef bourguignon marinates in wine for two days.' The extra time and attention to create this dish and other French favorites is what makes French food so special. His colleague agrees and personally loves to create and serve salmon with a homemade peppercorn sauce that customers love. 

The Chef at Lucs was invited but not available during the timeframe that these interviews were conducted. 

'My creativity is spontaneous, I love to follow the season. I often get inspired when a local forager comes in with mushrooms - I immediately think, what can I do with this.' - Chef Bernard, A' Table 

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