NEW YORK - After a nearly 40-year absence, renowned French chef Michel Richard has returned to New York City to open his new restaurant Villard Michel Richard along with a bakery called Pomme Palais.
Both are part of a $140 million makeover of the New York Palace hotel, which incorporates the historic Villard Mansion, which was built in 1882. The new restaurant replaces the two-Michelin-star restaurant, GILT, which closed a year ago.
Richard, a native of Brittany, left New York after the pastry shop he had opened with French Chef Gaston Lenotre closed in 1975. He moved to California where he earned praise for his fusion of classic cooking techniques with local ingredients.
After opening a string of restaurants across the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Richard settled in Washington, D.C. where he built on his success with the restaurants Central Michel Richard and Citronelle, which closed last year.
Richard, 65, spoke to Reuters about his long absence from New York, what still inspires him and his special ingredients.
Q: How does it feel being back in the New York dining scene after nearly four decades?
A: I love it. I've spent 40 years trying to learn what American guests want to eat. I feel ready. Now I think I'm ready to be back in New York City.
Q: Compare this latest experience with your first one working in New York.
A: There is no comparison. The first time I was a chef for Monsieur (Gaston) Lenotre. Now I am my own chef. If I make a mistake I have to fix it myself. Before I was a pastry chef, now I am a full-fledged chef.
Q: How have you evolved as a chef?
A: I evolved by working. I studied, read, tasted, traveled. I've been learning to be a chef for 35 years. When I was a pastry chef, all my dishes were sweet. I began to explore the ocean, the garden and the land and combined them with the discipline of being a pastry chef.
Q: What still inspires you in the kitchen?
A: The ingredients. I like to go to a market and look at ingredients. That's where I draw my inspiration.
Q: How has fine dining changed since you first became a chef?
A: In general, I don't think French fine dining is as popular as it used to be. In New York, fine dining is still strong, Daniel, Per Se, Le Bernardin (New York City restaurants with three Michelin stars). But some of the greats have disappeared; Lutece and Cote Basque are a couple that I miss.
Q: What is the one special ingredient you must have in the kitchen?
Q: What is your favorite food?
A: Roasted garlic chicken with French fries and a glass of Pinot Noir.
Lemon Garlic Roasted Chicken (serves 4)
1 4-lb (1.8-kg) free-range chicken
2 medium lemons, cut in half
1 branch fresh thyme
2 medium onions, sliced
20 cloves garlic, unpeeled
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium lemon additional
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1. Set up the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 degrees Celsius).
2. Remove the inside package from the chicken. Wash the chicken and dry it with a paper towel. Place the lemon halves and thyme inside the cavity. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
3. Place the chicken in a Pyrex glass dish or oven roaster. Cover the bottom of the dish with the onion slices and garlic cloves. Place the chicken in the dish and sprinkle the chicken with the olive oil.
4. Cook in the oven for one hour. After an hour, remove the chicken from the oven. Turn up the temperature in the oven to 450 degrees F (232 degrees C). When the oven has reached temperature, return the chicken to the oven and cook until it has become golden and crispy.
5. Before serving, remove the lemon halves from the cavity, and add the juice of the additional 1/2 lemon over the chicken. Sprinkle with the parsley.
6. To serve. Transfer the onion, garlic, and liquid from the chicken to a frying pan and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 cup (0.12 liter) of water to the pan, mix well, and bring to a boil. Serve as a sauce with the chicken.