CULINTRO A Community for Restaurant Professionals

Jacques Gautier - Member of the Month, September 2009

   (I think that it is very important for restaurants to be designed by the people who will manage them—hopefully they have experience.

   —Jacques Gautier

How and why did you start cooking?

I'm not really sure... I guess it's just something that for what ever reason has always fascinated me. When I was a little kid my mom used to grow vegetables in the back yard. That might have had some influence on me at a young age. I first started screwing around in the kitchen when I was like five years old. By the time I was twelve I was reading cook books and I probably spent more time in my moms kitchen experimenting with food than I do now.

Did you attend Culinary School?

I graduated from the Natural Gourmet in 1998. Starting this fall I will be returning as a Chef Instructor.

Did you stage in restaurants before opening Palo Santo? Yes Where?

A few different places, from San Francisco to Puerto Rico to Alsace. Taking a stage is in my opinion the best way to learn a local cuisine and culture, and the best way to learn to cook. This ties into the next question.

What's your best piece of advice to an aspiring chef?

I would like to encourage aspiring chefs to be humble and learn to be good cooks before considering themselves "aspiring chefs." Spend time working at a variety of different places to broaden your horizons. Think about your resume and your future when deciding which job offers to take.

What do you do outside of the kitchen?

I used to collect and spin Reggae 45's. Nowadays I don't get a whole lot of time outside of the kitchen unless I'm on the floor or doing office work. I live upstairs from the restaurant so it's a rare day when I even leave the block. Occasionally I get a chance to take a few days off and go camping upstate.

Where do you source your ingredients?

During the Spring, Summer and Fall I try to get as much as possible from the Saturday Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza. I have also developed relationships with a few farmers who will bring the goods to me. Nestor Tello—a farmer from Upstate—comes by the restaurant once or twice a week to bring us free-range eggs, hens, heirloom tomatoes, squash, beans and a variety of other things. Unfortunately once winter hits the NYC Greenmarkets pretty much shut down, so we are not able to find much local produce. Tropical produce and Latin American ingredients are brought to us by a purveyor who shops at the market up in the Bronx. All of the meat that we use is humanely raised and hormone and antibiotic free. We only sell grass fed beef. And we get whole pigs from Heritage Foods U.S.A. Fish is almost all wild -line caught when possible.

Do you have a culinary mentor? If so, can you tell us who?

I have worked for a few different chefs who have each had a strong influence on me in some way or another.

If you could open a second restaurant, where would it be? What it would serve?

The day to day operation of Palo Santo (sourcing ingredients, cooking, managing, bookkeeping, promoting etc.) requires so much of my time that it seems impossible for me to think about opening up a second restaurant at this point in my career. Also I have a lot of regular customers who I know would be very disappointed if they didn't see as much of me at Palo Santo. It's the type of place where people expect to be able to walk in and talk to the chef, and honestly—at least for the time being—I don't want it any other way. With that said, I do have a few other ideas for new restaurants... Maybe a larger place with a full bar and more of a late night dining crowd?... Or maybe an even smaller place where I would only serve tasting menus?

How did you hear about Culintro?

Alina contacted me, and we met to talk about it over a glass of wine at Al Di La.

Do you have a favorite Restaurant Architect, or is there particular restaurant design that you admire?

I am a big fan of rustic design that does a good job to reflect the influences in the cuisine. I like simple functional designs that make interesting use of unexpected materials and look beautiful but at the same time facilitate a smooth work day. I think that it is very important for restaurants to be designed by the people who will manage them—hopefully they have experience.

Where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I was born in DC. I grew up mostly in Maryland.

What¹s your favorite:

Food Cuisine:

Real market cuisine/Street food

Kitchen Utensil:

A French Fork with long, sharp tines is so useful on the line


What ever is fresh and colorful


The cake bible


That yellow cake recipe that is so versatile

Wine, beer, or cocktail:

Brooklyn Local 1

Feature on Culintro:

The industry events!

New York Restaurant (besides Palo Santo)

I recently visited Vinegar Hill House and I was very happy with my meal. One of my all time favorite places (please excuse my simple taste) is Congee Village in the LES.