Friday, September 21, 2001

2 French chefs - 2 different accents

Maisonette's Bouquin, Palace's Hulin want to bring distinctive flavors to their menus

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Though France no longer has a monopoly on training fine cooks, something about the combination of the words “French” and “chef” still inspires confidence.

        This summer, two French chefs arrived in downtown Cincinnati. The Maisonette hired Bertrand Bouquin to replace Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel. who left to develop his own restaurant.

        The Palace at the Cincinnatian hotel, which until now has had a more American-inspired version of fine dining, hired Guy Hulin after a long search for a new head chef.

        Here's an introduction to the two chefs, touching on their backgrounds and culinary styles.

Bertrand Bouquin
 Bertrand Bouquin
Bertrand Bouquin
        Bertrand Bouquin was born in Nevers and grew up in the Burgundy region of central France. In the European tradition, he began his culinary training at an early age, 15, working in restaurant kitchens in Lyons, Avignon and Switzerland.

        Question: What is your favorite comfort food?

        Answer: Oh, I think the big stews of Burgundy like boeuf Bourguignon, that you eat in winter. I grew up around three farms with fresh produce always to eat and try. I have a dish on the new (Maisonette) menu that is like something from Burgundy: a veal chop grand-mere, braised with all kinds of vegetables, very flavorful.

        Q: Who has had the most influence on your career?

        A: When I was 25, I got the job as sous-chef at Restaurant Bruneau in Brussels, which has three Michelin stars (the best possible rating). I was young, it was a big challenge. Monsieur Bruneau was a big influence for me, especially for his organization.

        After I had been at Bruneau for two years, I came to New York to work for Daniel Boulud. I was his senior sous-chef. We opened Cafe Boulud, and then the new Daniel. I learned a lot from him ... He has wonderful, non-stop energy ... We are good friends. I talk to him every other week or so.

        Q: Why did you say yes to the Maisonette offer?

        A: I was working at Club XIX in California, and soon figured out I wouldn't go very far there. It is part of a big corporation. I called Daniel Boulud and said, Daniel, you have to get me out of here. So one day he calls me — he is the kind of person to move very fast and always calls in the middle of service — and says I should apply for this job.

        It is the challenge to keep the five (Mobil) stars that attracted me. I like it here. It is more like a French restaurant, with the family ownership and people who have worked here for so long. Sous-chef Marcel Gauch has worked here since before I was born! And loyal customers, too.

        Q: What is your proudest achievement?

        A: My marriage is the thing I am proud of. My wife, Tanya, is from Detroit. We met when we were both working at Daniel.

        I am proud of working for two years at Daniel. Not everyone makes it that long.

        Q: Will Maisonette customers find your food different from what Chef de Cavel served?

        A: I think so. He and I had different training, with different chefs and our own way to do things. I have changed the menu, and we'll see what the customers like.

        Q: What's your No. 1 rule in the kitchen?

        A: Integrity. To have respect for the products and ingredients, and respect for the customer. I don't make the signature dishes, the customers do.

        Q: Your predecessor was known for loving M&Ms. Do you have a secret junk food habit?

        A: No, I don't very much like junk food.

Guy Hulin

Guy Hulin
Guy Hulin
        Guy Hulin is from Poitiers, in the west of France halfway between Cognac and Tours.

        Question: What is your favorite comfort food?

        Answer: Rather heavy foods, ... lots of fresh products and farm cooking.

        Q: Do you consider what you do French cooking?

        A: Not exactly. It is more contemporary. There is a lot of Asian influence in what I do.

        Q: You've lived and worked all over the world. Which was your favorite spot?

        A: I loved Thailand especially. I was there for three years. I loved both the country and the cooking, and especially the people. Saudi Arabia was more difficult, but I made it there for a year. I cooked for the Royal family. It was more difficult for my wife, who could not work. (Mr. Hulin is married to Noreen Nagao, of Lodi, Calif. She is the pastry chef at the Palace.)

        Q: Who has had the most influence on your career?

        A: Not one person in particular ... I collect influences and make them my own.

        Q: Why did you say yes to the Palace offer?

        A: I was in California at the time. We do want to stay in North America, but California is not where we wanted to be. Too expensive. It was a good challenge here.

        Q: What is your style in the kitchen?

        A: I used to be one of those French chefs who yells , but not any more ... I like to be a teacher to the people who work for me.

        Q: What is your first aim at the Palace?

        A: We're still in a transition. I'm training new staff and finishing my own menu. I'll change the menu with the seasons, and with what people like. I try always to please the customer. I am not the kind of chef who cooks to please myself.


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