As this month marks the ten year anniversary of Payard Patisserie and Bistro, we deemed it appropriate to go “Behind Kitchen Doors” with executive chef Philippe Bertineau. Bertineau cultivated his technique as sous
chef at such prestigious restaurants as London’s Auberge de Provence
and New York City’s Daniel before joining up with pastry chef Francois Payard to launch Payard on the upper East Side. With a talent for
the southwestern cuisine of his native France, Bertineau sticks to his
roots and dishes out some of New York’s best modern bistro fare. From
rich homemade foie gras with pearl onion chutney to succulent duck leg
confit on a corn galette, his dishes reveal themselves as elegant as this David Rockwell-designed classic.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Growing up in France my dad wanted me to be a farmer, like him. But when I discovered the
light of Paris,
where my brother was living, and we went out to restaurants I started
cooking. First I cooked for my family, and then I knew I had found
something that I enjoyed. No one was a chef in my family before me.
What was your first job in food?…
I started at the bottom of the brigade, as we say in French, which is an
army name. It’s what we call the kitchen staff. I worked my way up,
from station to station, learning along the way.
Having grown up in France
and worked in two Michelin starred restaurants, what compelled you to move to
Before New York, I worked in London for one year and then went back to France. I
was 25 years old and I wanted a challenge. I was eager to experience
something totally new in a foreign country. A friend from London was working in New York at Park Bistro and told me there
was a place for me. So, I came to New York in September of 1991.
When did you first meet Daniel Boulud and what was it like collaborating
with him for the opening of Daniel in 1993?
I met him because the owner of Park Bistro knew him. He was leaving Le
Cirque and I was finishing my first visa, but wanted to stay in America.
I approached him and I guess I had good references because he took me on as a
sous chef. It was his first restaurant on his own. He was already
well respected as a chef but now he would become chef/owner. The pressure
level was very high. We had to be flawless.
Where did you meet pastry chef François Payard and why did you leave to
open the eponymous Payard?
When I was at Park Bistro, François was at Le Bernardin. We met
through a friend, and he said, “One day, if I open my restaurant, I will
take Philippe as my chef because he is a hard worker.” We didn’t
know each other more than that. Then at Daniel, he was the pastry chef
when I was one of the sous chefs and we got to know each other over the
years. In 1997, Francois and Daniel Boulud opened Payard. It was a
new challenge for me, and a chance to do my own style of cooking.
You’ve been integrating a greenmarket approach into Provençal cooking
before it was fashionable at Payard…what inspired your proclivity toward local,
Provençal cooking is the best in the summer when the staple ingredients are
at their prime, tomatoes, zucchinis, eggplant. Growing up on a farm, this
is how you eat. Everything is seasonal and local. Few people know
the taste of fresh harvest potatoes. I have this sense of the season from
growing up on the farm. It’s natural for me. We didn’t expect to
have strawberries in December.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu right now?
It’s always hard to choose favorites. Today for lunch I had the
halibut with ratatouille and tomato broth with lemon verbena and a purslane
with fresh bean salad. If something is on the menu it’s because I like
it. Not because it’s fashionable.
What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
The mesclun salad. People always ask for it but it’s not what I’d
choose to eat. Not that alone at least.
Have you created any new dishes exclusively to celebrate the 10th
anniversary of Payard?
Actually, I’ve decided to bring back some of the classics from the last ten
years. It’s like their new again. The bouillabaisse and crispy
pig’s feet are two of my favorites to resurrect.
What is your junk food of choice?
I’m not really into junk food. I refuse to go to fast food places.
Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?
That’s difficult. For Italian, San Domenico. And, not just
because it’s my wife’s restaurant, but because she’s a great Italian chef.
What culinary trend do you most embrace?
Cooking seasonally and using local produce. It seems to be called a
trend now but for me it’s the only way to cook.
What trend do you wish would die already?
There’s only one El Bulli, and then too many people who copy it badly.
Fusion is already dying, if not dead.
What’s next on the horizon for you? Any new ventures or restaurants
in the works? Spill the beans…
Sometimes it’s good to stay put. One day perhaps my wife and I will
Address: 1032 Lexington Ave., nr. 74th St.
Until we eat again,
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