Tom Colicchio looked stunned as he sipped his Champagne, a crisp 1995 Henriot CUvée Des Enchanteleurs. He couldn’t believe that Michel Bras (pronounced brahs), arguably France’s most revered chef, was cooking for him, here, at a dinner in New York City. Though now a celebrity chef himself and head judge on TV’s Top Chef, Colicchio remembered what it was like to be the 27-year-old unknown he was when he traveled to France to work for two months at Bras’s restaurant. He tried to explain Bras’s genius: “Bras is out there. Cerebral. He didn’t apprentice in a great kitchen. He’s had no dogma beaten into him.”
© John Kernick
The monkish, 62-year-old Bras was the guest of honor at the gathering, cohosted by F&W’s editor-in-chief, Dana Cowin, and Stefan Boublil (at left) and Gina Alvarez. Boublil and Alvarez, founders of a design agency called the Apartment, throw weekly dinner parties in their Soho loft. They’ve created entire meals based on popcorn, sushi and Kellogg’s cereal, but this was the first event that required a hole in one of their walls. Bras’s menu needed a second stove; Boublil gladly cut out a slot for a new electrical socket. He also arranged with All-Clad to provide the chef with 20 pots.
Clearly, Bras’s rare U.S. appearance was an extraordinary occasion. For the better part of the past 30 years, anyone who wanted to taste his cuisine has had to make the trek to his Michelin three-star restaurant overlooking Laguiole (lah-yol), a small village in the remote Aubrac mountains of south-central France. (Bras has famously declined to open a restaurant in Paris, though he did create a spin-off in Hokkaido, Japan, in 2002.) The chef was in New York as part of his partnership with Japanese knife manufacturer KAI. Inspired by Laguiole’s legendary knife-making tradition, Bras designed a line of exquisite chef’s knives with KAI that debuted in 2005 (below). The handles have the smooth, rounded feel of chestnuts—which grow wild near the Aubrac mountains—so they are comfortable to hold for hours. A new line of silverware is also in the works.