Chef Jean Jacques Carquillat: Classic Master in Ulster County, NY
One of the Hudson Valley’s four best veteran chefs in 2012: Jean Jacques Carquillat in Kingston, NY
Photograph by Ken Gabrielsen
Some think the allure of classic French dining has faded — felled, perhaps, by the death of masters of the art like Julia Child, as well as greater interest in healthier, more casual, and less costly eating. All of these factors certainly played a part in the shuttering of such haute temples of French dining like Lutece and La Cote Basque. But none of this seems to bother the devotees of Kingston’s Le Canard Enchaine. This classic French restaurant (picture the charming bistro in Midnight in Paris) is usually playing to a busy — if not packed — house seven nights a week.
So if you are one of those who still craves a filet of boeuf braised with foie gras and truffles, or a light airy dessert soufflé served with dollops of silky crème Anglaise, then you are in luck — chef/owner Jean Jacques Carquillat doesn’t plan on changing a thing. “We’re not doing things any differently than we did when we opened 15 years ago,” he says. “We’ve always used lots of products from area farms and we keep the quality, ambience, and service high.” Bon appetit.
Age 52 Hometown Chamonix, France Current home Kingston with wife Jennifer and their 16-year-old son. “He’s more interested in the car than the food business.”
Inspiration “My grandmother had worked in the hotel business for 47 years at her Hotel Mont Blanc, and I used to help her. My father was also a chef.”
Training “A mixture of learning on the job and professional schooling: the Cordon Bleu cooking school, the Ritz in Lisbon, La Reserve and Le Bernardin in NYC.”
On the restaurant’s name “It’s the oldest French newspaper in Paris.”
How did you end up in the Hudson Valley? “I used to come to Kingston on weekends because of a French restaurant that was near Belleayre. I liked the area, and there didn’t seem to be any other similar French restaurants, so I thought, why not! I also liked the idea of opening a restaurant in the state’s original capital city. The building we found was 80 years old, had a lot of character, and seemed to be a good place to start.”
Any spin on the classic French repertoire? “Some dishes reflect a nouvelle or Asian influence. We marinate our sea bass in Asian spices, and serve it atop noodles. Our shrimp Indochine is made in coconut milk.”
Any inroads due to interest in sustainability? “We’ve always used lots of products from area farms; we buy almost everything at Adams Fairacre Farms.”
What else is cooking? “We started a separate company called Le French Kiss Bakery, also based in Kingston, and make French specialties like tarte tatins and chocolate mousse cakes and New York-style cheesecakes.”
When you knew your restaurant was a success “Three months after opening, when people kept coming back.”
But aren’t diners today intimidated by the idea of a fancy menu, white tablecloths, and haute prices? “I don’t think so; we’ve got so many steady customers, and we’ve got an affordable prix fixe lunch ($14.95) and an affordable dinner (appetizers $8-$14, entrées $20-$40). We’ve also got lots of wines — more than 175 — and many are affordable.”
What type of restaurant does the area still need? “A good sushi restaurant and a wonderful Italian restaurant but one that doesn’t just serve a can of tomato sauce.
Where do you eat on a day off? I like to go to New York and Daniel Boulud’s restaurants, Lyon, Le Bernardin, La Bonne Soupe.