The shuttering of Le Bec-Fin is the most important Philly food news story of a young 2012, and probably even more important than anything that's happened in the last five years. Georges Perrier has sold his French palace to Nic Fanucci, a longtime member of Thomas Keller's food family, and everything is about to change. Eater chatted up Fanucci on what we can expect when LBF 2.0 opens, how the whole process started, and new executive chef Walter Abrams.
When did Georges Perrier first approach you about buying Le Bec-Fin? Officially, it happened in October of 2011, but the Le Bec team came out to The French Laundry back in June of last year to get the ball rolling, but they really talked about me taking it over in October. In my career, though, I owe Georges so much, and have known him a long time.
Did critic Craig LaBan's horrible review of Le Bec-Fin speed up the process of the sale? It was already going. Georges was very hurt because he is very proud, but we had already spoken about it before that a few times. My wife and I were out here more than a few times. And we have had meetings about it for many months.
Coming from The French Laundry, what will be different with Le Bec-Fin 2.0? We are going to change from what Le Bec became. We really want to go back to what it was before, when Le Bec was so influential, it was a jewel in the dining scene. We are going to bring the West Coast sensibility of working with local farms, and focusing on those relationships for our menu, which is what Georges was doing before, as well. So, the past successes are what we're striving for. One big change is that the famous dessert cart will no longer be a part of the experience. That's gone.
In that same vein, what will stay the same for the Le Bec-Fin experience? The service and guest-oriented experience that Perrier established will be a focus, just as it was before. He really made that a standard, and many other restaurants of that era followed suit. In terms of elements, the famous chandelier is staying in the dining room.
How did Walter Abrams end up being your chef? I worked with Walter for 6 years in Thomas Keller's world. He was my neighbor in Napa, even when he went down to San Francisco to work at Spruce. The opportunity to work at Le Bec-Fin was one that he couldn't turn down. He said yes right away.
How will Perrier be involved with the new Le Bec-Fin? The day-to-day, he won't really be around, but as an advisor, Georges will be there. When we do famous Le Bec-Fin dishes, he will be there to advise us to do it the right way, to get that information from the source. He was there for 42 years, he has to be involved, we need him to be involved.
When is the restaurant opening? We are looking at the first week of June. Originally it was going to be the last week of May, but now we're doing the grand opening the first week of June. When I took over the restaurant, we had the moving company take everything out, and we realized there was more we wanted to do. So, rushing that wasn't an option. Paying more attention, making dramatic changes in the kitchen, that kind of stuff.
In terms of design, will it be an overhaul, or subtle changes? I'm sure you didn't know what Le Bec looked like 25 years ago, but there was a salon and a bar before you got into the dining room. We're bringing back the salon when you enter the restaurant, and then we have the doors going into the main dining room, it's dramatic. We're going from 18 tables down to 12 tables. Changing the fabric on the walls, the patterns, going back to Louis XVI colors and design, the gold leaf, the way it was before.
We renamed the bar downstairs Chez Georges, as it used to be Tryst. We're going to make that back into a food and wine concept, as opposed to the happy hour cocktail spot. Traditional French food downstairs. The changes to the room won't be as dramatic as the upstairs dining room, as they just redid it recently. The bar will change back to a dark wood piece as it was before the change into Tryst, though.
What are you hoping to achieve with the new Le Bec-Fin? We need to bring back Le Bec-Fin to be the pride of Philadelphia. One of the best restaurants in the country, make it into the world-renowned place it once was. A return to that tradition, making it one of the great dining destinations in the U.S.
So many local chefs and restaurateurs have been so helpful and supportive. Marc Vetri, Audrey Claire, and Stephen Starr have stepped up and offered help and support. It's humbling, really. I am excited to be a part of this culture.
What part of the Thomas Keller world are you bringing here? My time with Thomas Keller was eye-opening in terms of attention to detail. I learned so much about the idea of guest-oriented restaurants, and little touches that went a long way with our diners. It's that idea, those steps that are what we bring to the new Le Bec-Fin experience.
Thanks for your time, everyone is looking forward to you getting the place open. Thank you, it's coming up soon, so we're excited, too.