Gilles Épie. God I love saying his name. Do you know what I like even more about Gilles Épie? Photos of him. This Frenchman's charm and charisma is so bare that he doesn't even know he's got "it." But he's not most commonly known for his "it" factor, non.
For the few of you left out there that still might not be familiar with him, Gilles Épie is a world-renowned, award-winning French chef and restaurateur. As if he were not blessed enough as it is, he can also check "marry hot American supermodel" off his list of things to accomplish in life as well.
Still to this day carrying the title of the youngest chef to ever receive the Michelin star at age 22, the list goes on and on with many successes, in and out of the kitchen. We became more familiar with Épie as head chef at L.A.'s L'Orangerie, where after only a year in the States, and hardly a lick of English, he managed to be voted "Best Chef in America" in 1996.
He single-handedly took that establishment from a three-star to a five-star restaurant within six months. That "Best Chef" title gave him quite a busy ten years in the U.S. cooking for presidents here and kings there. He went on to own and operate Chez Gilles in Beverly Hills as well as other partnerships. My favorite names to mention that have been his guests are Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren, Princess Di, and Slash just to name a few.
Gilles' favorite former patron is now his wife, Elizabeth Nottoli. Supermodel/actress, turned Mrs. Épie, turned restaurateur with Gilles in, where else, Paris, at Citrus Étoile. Living the dream, I'd say. Except now this insanely sexy couple makes magic together.
Referred to as a culinary contortionist by The New York Times, Gilles Épie missed the competition of the international chef scene, which was part of what drove him back to Paris seven years ago to start something new. Celebrating six successful years, this duo continues to amuse our bouche at Citrus Étoile. The elegant interior and its stunning Hermes-ish orange add to the phenomenal gastronomic experience at Citrus Étoile.
Still catering to international clientele, Gilles explains that the secret to a great dish is always using fresh ingredients. A daily trip to a Parisian market ensures this. There you will find all the seasonal fruits, vegetables, and meats "du jour" from rabbits, to a leg of this or a rack of that. Unlike in the States, many of the whole meat selections still have the heads on because it shows how fresh it really is, Gilles explains.
"French people, they don't buy the pigeon if there is no head on it." For a fresh fish, look at the eyes, Gilles suggests. Except when it comes to monkfish, which is displayed at the market without a head. "The head on a monkfish is really ugly. No one wants to buy a really ugly fish anyway," he says with a most serious tone, because apparently only the pretty fish get sold with the heads on.
My hour-long conversation with Gilles recently went on as if talking to Jacques Cousteau himself. Take it as you may, I mean that as a compliment because I love the French accent so much. This may be why I dragged on our conversation for so long (sorry Gilles).
Reminiscing, Gilles recalls the New Year's Eve party at New York's Studio 54 for the millennium, a party his company catered. "There were over 200 bottles of private-label French Champagne flown in for the event, and 250 kilos of Beluga caviar," Gilles described. Needless to say, the party went down in history, one of many Épie was privy to be a part of. It would probably be appropriate to mention here that Épie had catered Frank Sinatra's 80th birthday party as well.
Our discussion went from when he fist arrived to the States without much of a plan, to questions of if he has ever been to a — dare I say it — McDonald's? "Oh yes, many times in the States I would take my son. Their fries are better in the States than in France," Gilles assures us. I wonder if this has something to do with why Gilles says his dream is to come back to America someday? "I want to come back, open another restaurant, and live near the ocean."
Your dream is our dream, as we selfishly want you back for more of your gourmet delights. It would make it easier for us to frequent your restaurant if you were in the States rather than Paris. Not nicer, but definitely easier. Legendary, brilliant, and super cool, Chef Gilles Épie will continue to satisfy our need for exceptional dining, without a doubt. Until then, see you in Paris!
— Slavica Monczka, Seductively French