Fans of french chef Laurent Tourondel know that the food at his BLT restaurants isn’t French. Or particularly fancy: No froufrou foams, no $85 truffle supplements. Although classic French technique still serves the chef well, most often it helps him reinvigorate American stalwarts—from porterhouse steaks and onion rings to lobster rolls, popovers and cobblers.
After working as the chef to an admiral in the French navy, the Auvergne-born Tourondel appeared to be headed for a traditional fine-dining career. A disciple of both the fabled Jacques Maximin and the Troisgros brothers, Tourondel was named an F&W Best New Chef 1998 for his wonderful French cooking at Las Vegas’s opulent Palace Court. In 1999 he garnered three stars from the New York Times at Manhattan’s now-shuttered Cello. But it’s his fascination with iconic American dishes—especially big, juicy, perfectly grilled steaks—that has made him a superstar.
Many French chefs do not grill. Perhaps they find the high heat required to put the best grill marks on a cut of meat to be somewhat harsh. But Tourondel’s admiration for the technique—and his ability to perform it with French precision—have helped him create a growing restaurant empire known by the acronym BLT (Bistro Laurent Tourondel). Since opening the first BLT Steak in Manhattan in 2004, he has added two branches and has plans for three more. He also runs Manhattan’s BLT Fish, BLT Prime and BLT Burger; BLT Market is opening this year in New York City’s Ritz-Carlton Central Park. What’s next? BLT Chili? BLT BLT? It seems that for every kind of food America loves, Tourondel knows how to make it exciting and draw the crowds.