by dorothy cascerceri | July 19, 2012 | People
Two chefs, one mission: Jennifer Smith and Walter Abrams, in the kitchen at Le Bec-Fin
When Walter Abrams, the sous chef at Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry, proposed to Jennifer Smith—a pastry chef at the same Napa Valley restaurant—while they were traveling in Spain this past April, these lovebirds knew planning their nuptials would have to take a backseat to a larger project. “The wedding is going to have to wait until we get the restaurant going,” Smith said.
The restaurant she was referring to? The famed Le Bec-Fin, where Abrams and Smith have joined new owner Nicolas Fanucci, the former general manager of French Laundry, to complete a highly anticipated renovation and culinary overhaul.
Critics over the years have not been kind to Le Bec-Fin, but Abrams, who was born in Florida but spent his childhood in Colombia, is determined to restore it to its former glory and make it a coveted destination for chefs graduating from culinary school. “I want to make it one of the best restaurants in the country again,” he says. “I want to make sure it’s not just a place people want to dine in, but a place people want to work in, too.”
According to the culinary duo, the menu will still feature traditional French dishes, but with an updated twist. “The template of classic French cuisine is a lot of fun, but it’s definitely very old school,” says Abrams. “We want to make the experience very fun and not feel stuffy, like it can in some big, classic French restaurants.”
Smith’s focus will be on sourcing as many fresh ingredients as she can throughout the Philadelphia region. “We want to build relationships with local farmers, dairy farmers, and give them the opportunity to showcase these beautiful things they have to offer,” she says. “We intend to grow some of our own produce in a rooftop garden as well.”
The duo is looking forward to the challenges ahead, and they are especially excited about being together in the kitchen again after they spent the past year working apart. “In the restaurant business, you’re away from home a lot,” says Abrams, “so if you can work together, there’s nothing better than working with your better half.”
photography by andrew kahl