For nearly 40 years, the super French, super formal student-run Escoffier Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America was where students were put through their classical French paces. But last summer the C.I.A. bid au revoir to Escoffier and both the space and menus underwent major renovations before opening up once again this past Friday as The Bocuse Restaurant, in honor of another French master, Paul Bocuse, the much-celebrated Lyonnaise chef who celebrated his 87th birthday last week and was named Chef of the Century by the CIA in 2011.
The opening was attended by non other than Bocuse himself, making a special trip from Lyon for the culinarily star-studded inaugural dinner. Also in attendance were Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Charlie Palmer, David Burke, Michel Richard, and Jerome Bocuse. Guests supped on aseven-course menu, including: A Peach of Foie Gras with string beans, shallots, tomato, and walnut oil; Bocuse’s own Black Truffle V.G.E Soup; Filet Mignon of Beef with marrow custard, wild mushrooms and red wine; and Grapefruit Sorbet with vodka and frozen Lillet pearls.
Why the change? “Paul Bocuse is, simply stated, the most important chef in history. He set the standard for culinary excellence, business accumen, and media savvy that generations of chefs around the world still aspire to,” says Dr. Tim Ryan, president of the CIA. “His contributions to the profession have surpassed those of legendary French chef August Escoffier, so we felt that it was important to change the name of the CIA's long heralded French restaurant---from Escoffier to Bocuse. Just changing the name, however, would not have been an appropriate tribute, or in keeping with the CIA's nature to constantly improve, so we asked our Art Director, world renowned restaurant designer Adam Tihany, to work with us on a complete transformation of the former space. We envisioned something light, modern, and accessible, that also showed our affection for, and respect of, Chef Bocuse. At the same time, we asked our faculty members to think about the French restaurant experience of the future (in America), and to incorporate new technologies, techniques, presentations, and thinking while remaining true to the sprit and essence of French cooking. Above all we wanted a customer-centric restaurant: comfortable, fun, interesting, not too expensive, with delicious food and attentive service.”
The Bocuse Restaurant exemplifies the philosophy of its namesake by instructing its student staff to think outside the established rules, just as Bocuse did when he embraced the market inspired menu, collaboration with fellow chefs and innovation in his kitchen.There will be sous vide and liquid nitrogen used side by side with more traditional cooking methods in this kitchen.
The design also reflects a more modern way of looking at French cuisine — gone are the heavy furnishings and formal table settings in favor of black walnut floors, light leather wall paneling, custom armchairs and warm earth tones throughout. Providing guests with stunning views of the Hudson River, the airy, bright space is anchored by sprawling windows, an open kitchen and a brand new, all-glass wine room. The restaurant is set “sans tablecloths,” choosing to feature beautiful walnut tables and fine napery instead to convey the casual intention of the space as well as a respect for the environmental concerns associated with laundering table linens. Custom touches provide unique focal points in the restaurant’s private dining room, such as the one-of-a-kind chandelier made of Bocuse’s signature V.G.E. soup bowls.
The Bocuse Restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday (when classes are in session) for lunch and dinner and seats 105. Look here
for full menus and reservations.