Fans were a bit disoriented earlier this year when their beloved Andre’s Bouchée closed its doors. But with the official announcement of the return of former chef Jacques Zagouri, in partnership with Richard Oh and Kavindra Pandey, they needn’t suffer the ills of classic French food depravation any longer.
Oh says he first met his friend Jacques at the restaurant 10 years ago, and quickly became a big fan of its fine French cuisine. “I’ve always loved this restaurant. Dining here was such a pleasure. I was selling wines to them 10 years ago,” notes Oh.
The restaurant had been owned since 2009 by the Lemaire family, and prior to that, David Fink, under the name Bouchée. When it closed in March, Oh missed the place greatly, and recently made arrangements to take possession of the assets. “I approached the bank that had repossessed all the equipment. The place was vacant for six months, but it’s in great shape. Now Jacques is with me; it was all perfect timing.”
The new owners reopened on Saturday, with dinner service from 5–10pm. The intent is to offer dinner daily, and eventually introduce lunch service.
Chef Zagouri, a native of Southern France who worked with chef Andre Lemaire in his first culinary position in the United States, is excited to be back: “It’s like coming back home here! I’m doing foie gras, filet with truffles, onion soup, sweetbreads, all the classic dishes. All the good things! We are bringing back French classics and traditional cooking.” Zagouri clearly couldn’t be more jazzed to be back in his beloved kitchen. “It smells so good!”
After Chef Andre passed away six years ago, his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Lauren, continued to run the family business. They eventually parted ways with chef Zagouri and named the creative Parisian-born chef Benoit Petel, previously of La Balena and Lauren’s husband, the restaurant’s chef. But following a difficult period when the Soberanes fire and the ensuing adverse weather, mud slides and Highway 1 closures affected many Carmel businesses, the Lemaires felt forced to close. (Petel is now a chef at Hyatt Carmel Highlands.)
After 11 months up north, Zagouri made his way back to the Carmel area, where he delighted in working with Pierre and Marie Bain at Fandango. And then, life turned itself inside out and upside down. He suffered a serious heart attack on June 11, after which he received four stents and a directive from the doctor to quit smoking, a habit he found hard to break after 32 years. But there was no choice. “It was big, I almost died. It was kind of scary. I was freaking out. You have to rest and recuperate, but you are away from everyone.”
He credits the generous outpouring of love and good wishes during his recuperation for helping him through the recovery process. “The way that the community responded was amazing! Whether by phone, Facebook, text message or visiting me in the hospital, I got big help from the community. I feel so lucky! I really am a lucky guy. We are so blessed to live here, not just for the beauty of the place, but of the people, too.”
Zagouri was busy making lobster saffron broth and onion soup while we spoke. Was he ready to open this soon after taking over the space? “I want to get going! It’s funny, each time I open a restaurant, I tell myself this is the last time! But here we are again. When you open, you are ready for almost everything you do expect, but it’s what you don’t expect that always presents the biggest challenge!
While Zagouri loves to be busy, he’s going to be even busier than ever, because he pretty much prepares everything here, including the brioche and pastries. The table bread is made by Lafayette, but he is making and baking everything else.
Zagouri invites you to come in to enjoy his decadent duck confit or his famous seafood risotto, brimming with local calamari, mussels from Washington, cold water lobster and Gulf prawns. He gets his scallops from Massachusetts and lamb rack from Colorado. He wants to source only the best. And yes, if you want Dover sole, it might not be on the menu, but chances are you can get him to make it.
Your best bet is always to let the chef choose for you. “I love to pick food for guests. They get to try different flavors. So many people have never tried foie gras, or escargots or crispy sweetbreads. All the royal stuff!” he says. Save room for tarte tatin.
For Zagouri, he’s truly coming home, in so many ways. And best of all, he admits, “I get to work with my best friend! It is a beautiful thing.”
Carmel Bouchée • Mission and Ocean, Carmel-by-the-Sea • 831.574.8344
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.