Here's the latest on Daniel Pont and Chez Daniel, his new restaurant in Folsom. If you missed my story a couple of days ago (it ran in the business section), the 72-year-old French chef is getting back in the professional kitchen, many months after selling his famed downtown lunch spot, La Bonne Soupe.
Pont called me at home (at 10:30 p.m.) Thursday and I could hear the excitement in his voice. After three months of work, including a month's worth of frustration with getting his fire alarm to pass muster with the Folsom Fire Department, the chef is ready and eager. I didn't mind the late hour. I was actually sipping a very nice glass of Cotes du Rhone, and I figured 10:30 to a Frenchman is like 7:30 to an American.
He said expects to be open Tuesday. But the man who became famous for his lunches will be open only for dinner, at least to start. Dinner will be served from 5-9 p.m.Tuesday to Saturday. The menu will feature food that is much more involved and sophisticated than the soups and sandwiches that won him such a devoted following downtown.
Pont says it will be a soft opening, meaning there won't be fanfare, balloons tied to trees or some sketchy guy on the sidewalk out front with one of those shake signs.
I would imagine nearly everyone is pulling for him to succeed. But I have my concerns. For one, the chef who was too stubborn to hire any help at La Bonne Soupe is displaying that same temperament this time. How many employees is he going to have to cook and serve four-course dinners? There will be one employee in the front of the house, Pont in the kitchen, along with a dishwasher. Prep work? Sauces? Desserts? Meats? Soups? They will be handled by Pont and only Pont.
As any chef will tell you, it is a young person's game - and it's a contradictory one, at that. By the time you have mastered your craft, perfected your recipes and know your way around a kitchen blindfolded, you're too old to do it 12 hours a day like you have to. That usually happens to chefs when they're in their 50s. They hit the wall. They lose that intensity. They seek to reinvent themselves and take on more of a teaching or supervisory role in their restaurants. They ease their way out of the kitchen and do more thinking and talking than chopping and cooking.
Not Pont. His new restaurant will have eight tables, but even then, that could mean 20-30 people ordering food. Timing the cooking and synchronizing the courses and getting everything perfect is a gargantuan task for one person, let alone one who is 72. If he could recruit a sous chef who wants to learn from Pont and take charge of certain aspects of the kitchen, Pont just might enjoy this restaurant venture the way he deserves to. A sous chef can be good enough to give Pont the occasional day off.
That said, Chez Daniel is going to be quite the spectacle in Folsom, and I imagine the restaurant will be busy from Day 1.
I have a couple of suggestions for the chef:
1. Hold occasional cooking classes the way Rick Mahan does at Waterboy and OneSpeed and Biba Caggiano does at Biba. Caggiano, for instance, charges $125 per person and the classes routinely sell out. People admire Pont. He is a gentleman. He is a stylist. And he has a lifetime of knowledge he can share with avid home cooks. Teaching would connect him with his fans in a new way.
2. Sell your soups in pint containers for take home. La Bonne Soupe was famous for its array of soups, from French onion to a variety of vegetable soups, all seasoned by a chef with a most reliable palate. Of all the soups I've had there, there was never a flavor that was out of sync (I could say the same thing about the excellent soups at Biba, by the way). Packaging the soups in some way so we can take them home for dinner would bring more customers into the tiny restaurant. Even if they don't have time to stay for a four-course meal, they could enjoy Pont's soups at home.
These are merely suggestions. I say that knowing full well that Daniel Pont, like Frank Sinatra and our cat Buster, does things his way.
Chez Daniel is at 49 Natoma St., Folsom, (916) 353-1938.