If you haven’t heard, there’s been a major kitchen shuffle at Bobo, the stunning, West Village townhouse restaurant with its own garden and working fireplace. But that’s no longer the biggest draw. Enter chef Cedric Tovar, who’s cooked with everyone from Joel Robuchon to Geoffrey Zakarian at Town and even helmed the kitchen at Peacock Alley. Tovar grew up in Alsace, France where he dined on rabbit grilled on dried vine shoots and snacked on grapes that he and his friends would swipe from neighborhood vineyards. “I was surrounded by beautiful products,” Tovar said. “When my mom and grandma were cooking, I was always in the kitchen, so I was naturally drawn to cooking.”
Though Tovar flirted with the idea of becoming a motorcycle racer, he decided to pursue cooking, leading him to New York. Now Cedric Tovar is using his ingredient-driven, Mediterranean cooking style to revamp Bobo and, better yet, open Italian-bent Rosemary’s with restaurateur Carlos Suarez, which is set to debut this spring in the old Village Paper space. Until then, you might consider a visit to Bobo for Tovar’s braised duck leg confit in red wine or slow-cooked arctic char with almond citrus.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a veterinarian and I also flirted with the idea of being a motorcycle racer. But I grew up in the south of France, where I was surrounded by beautiful products. When my mom and grandma were cooking, I was always in the kitchen, so I was naturally drawn to cooking.
What were some of your favorite things to eat as a kid growing up in France?
Grilled rabbit marinated with mustard and rosemary and grilled on dried vine shoots! Grapes that we would steal in the vineyards near the house. Strawberries, with which my mom used to make an awesome “fraisier” [A chiffon layer cake]. And “telines” that we picked up at the beach (they are flat mini cockles that you prepare mariniere style, with onions and white wine).
What was your first job in food and what did you learn?
For my first food experience, I was fortunate to work for Chef Jean-Paul Duquesnoy, a very talented chef. So, for more than two years I learned a lot in every department including pastry. But, my first day I got stuck peeling oranges and grapefruit to make zest confit and was not too happy.
What was the most important thing you learned from Joel Robuchon while working for him at Jamin?
To make sure your work is precise and accurate. Also, to be rigorous on a daily basis.
What’s tougher – French kitchens or New York kitchens?
They are both tough. In France, most of the chefs I worked with were very demanding in terms of quality of execution. And it’s a good thing. Here, it’s more the volume you are dealing with that is tough sometimes.
So when is Rosemary’s opening?
We should be ready in the spring.
What has been your biggest kitchen flub?
When I was a kid, I tried to make a dessert recipe and it ended up being too sweet. So, I thought that salt would make it less sweet. The whole thing ended up in the garbage. I definitely learned something that day!
How has the New York restaurant scene changed since you earned three New York Times stars as the executive chef at Town in 2001? Do you feel that the benchmarks for successful restaurants are different in 2012?
Yes for sure, everything has evolved, and more so in casual restaurants. Chefs are much more aware of cooking technique involving new technology. New restaurants open with serious equipment in their kitchen to be able to serve consistently delicious food. Accessibility to more quality ingredients is also a part of the change.
Describe your ideal meal at Bobo.
After having a cocktail at the bar, I would start with champagne & oysters (I have them shipped directly from Rhode Island), and then would continue with some spicy merguez crostinis. Then, I’ll have the leek salad with black truffle vinaigrette. The main course: Duck Civet, which are duck legs braised in red wine until the meat falls off the bone and is served with sautéed fingerling potatoes. I’ll have a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape with it. And for dessert, some profiteroles!
How often do you get to travel back to France? Do any of the dishes at Bobo reflect nostalgia for food from your childhood?
At least once a year. And I miss blanquette de veau and the bouillabaisse!
Was it difficult to take over a restaurant that already has an established reputation? What changes did you make to Bobo since taking charge of the kitchen?
Not really — we just did a smooth change into a completely new menu. We reorganized the kitchen as well. And we trained the current staff with new recipes and new ways to do things. I’m tackling the dessert menu next.
Do you prefer taking a leadership role at an existing restaurant – like you did with Bobo – or opening a new restaurant, as you are doing with Rosemary’s?I like both. They are interesting and very different. But in the end, the goal is the same: creating and serving great food and making it a successful business.
What neighborhood do you live in and where are your some of your favorite places to dine in that area?
I live in Weehawken NJ. I don’t go out too much there, but there are good places in Hoboken. I pretty much go out in the city and my Vespa makes it easy. Soto, which is a few blocks away from Bobo, is one of my favorite places. I love Dovetail on the Upper West Side, and more recently Il Bucco Alimentaria!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Somewhere a little more quiet, maybe California.
You’re on your deathbed…Sex or dinner?Both!
Address: 181 West 10th St. nr. 7th Ave South