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Special Interview

Interview with Laurent Boucher (1)

by Sylvie Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive chef - Laurent Bouncher

"Laurent Boucher, the Executive Chef and Co-owner of Jessie et Laurent gives us a glimpse of the wind behind the sails of their very successful 32 year old San Francisco Bay Area business. Laurent and I have been close friends for many years and share a lot of common interests. We are both from Paris and have moved to California many years ago; we both enjoy sailing and boats; we both love food and cooking for the same reasons, which of course has given us a chance over the years to share many delicious meals together with our respective mates. So when Jessie asked me to do this interview with Laurent, I was absolutely delighted and it felt just as natural as preparing a "confit de canard!" Today I am very happy to reveal for you the more personal aspects of Laurent and what is really happening when the "toque" is off."

What is your greatest passion?

I definitely love to make people happy, and I found out early on that preparing a "tarte aux pommes" or a roast chicken was most enjoyable for me, but mainly how thankful people were. They gave lots of positive comments and sometimes suggestions to improve a dish but I always appreciated the constructive feedback that I got and it is still true today. I am driven by the same feeling. So food is really my way to people's heart. I was so lucky to discover this when I was very young and to make it my job today. And I am not planning to retire soon!

What is your favorite dish to prepare for family and friends?

Laurent in France

This question makes me go back way into the past again. I make it a few times a year: it is my grandmother's recipe for cheese fondue. It is fun to go shopping to gather all the ingredients; they used to be difficult to find in the States but now they are readily available. You are surrounded by friends and it is so great to enjoy their pleasure. And at the end when they think it is over comes the surprise: there is the "craquelin" at the bottom of the pot, and you add a couple of eggs, keep the heat very low and you enjoy these scrambled eggs with the crispy cheese. It is an unexpected gift at the end of the dish. I learn this trick at the Hotel School where I studied in Switzerland where it is a most popular dish.

What do you miss the most about France?

Laurent in France

I don't really miss a lot. But I have memories of week-ends with my family, cousins who organized parties. Our country house was at one hour from Paris, in Dammartin-en-Serve, where my uncle used to prepare lots of festivities like a baby pig or venison; he had installed in his garden a covered BBQ with a chimney to roast these dishes, and our role with my cousins was to brush the piglet with butter. The aromatic smells, the crackling fire, the glow of the embers, the sharing with family and friends, I have lots of memories of participating to that and I sometimes miss this wonderful atmosphere. My uncle was putting so much love into his entertaining, it was not half done, it was done in the best of ways. Not only my uncle but also my parents and grandparents entertained in the same way. They loved food and it was meaningful to them. I was very lucky.

What do you particularly appreciate about the California lifestyle?

One thing that I enjoy immensely here is the climate, so much light. I like being very close to the countryside where we have grapes, produce, all kinds of fresh things and also the Bay, the Pacific, the bounty of that, and my particular favorite: the oysters of Tamales Bay. I enjoy also the people who live here, so many of whom are world explorers, it is so interesting to hear what they discover during their travels.

How did you manage to adapt traditional French recipes to the California taste? What would you describe as your cooking style/philosophy of cooking?

At the beginning of my stay in California, Jessie was a big influence on me in terms of this cooking adaptation. She was the guide on what was possible or not. With my French background, I was used to rich butter and cream sauces, which we still use but at a much reduced volume. I admired her methods, using tasty  home made broths, fresh vegetables and herbs with spices prepared with lean meats, fish and seafood. If my old masters could taste my cuisine today, they would be surprised at its evolution.

Chef Laurent in his kitchen In terms of cooking style, I was lucky to travel early on to places like Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, Martinique where I discovered new foods. And I got inspired by all the places that I have visited. I like to use different traditional cooking styles and cuisines of the world. There are many ways of cooking, and each country brings its own ingredients and savoir-faire. It is very exciting to explore all these spices, flavors, techniques that are nearly infinite.

My philosophy of cooking is to always build on my knowledge, to challenge myself to improve that sauce, that dish, finding little ways to fine tune them, add a spice, modify the technique. And this is ultimately for the pleasure of the people who taste the food. At least, that is my goal!

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I love sports such as skiing, fly-fishing, sailing, horse riding, biking, trekking in foreign lands or at home, and particularly swimming which I do about four times a week as a form of discipline. Every time I feel like a new man!

laurent - Sailing with Jessie et Laurent BoatIn my car I really enjoy listening to books. Right now for instance, I am listening to Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," and just before that I listened to "Travel with Charley" where Steinbeck travels with his dog, a delightful travelogue across America.

Gardening for me is a welcome form of meditation. I have lots of 20 year old Japanese maples and they keep me very busy.

Can we hope to get a recipe book from Jessie and Laurent in the near future?

I don't know... Jessie is the one who was tickled with this idea in the past. She has the basis for a book. But right now, it is not in the cards. This may change, so stay tuned!


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