Portrait

Raphaël François: Culinary Director

The French-Belgian chef has been in charge of the kitchens at Fanny’s, the restaurant at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, since last year. He agreed to reveal his salt-encrusted prime rib recipe, the star dish of this eatery paying tribute to the golden age of Hollywood.
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© Tina Jane Krohn

The chairs and booths are red, while the white walls are adorned with black-and-white photos and drawings. If not for the sleek, swan-neck lights, the pale-wood furnishings, and the absence of white tablecloths, visitors might think that they had traveled back to 1940s Hollywood. This is a deliberate theme. Fanny’s, named after American singer and actress Fanny Brice, whose life was portrayed in Funny Girl starring Barbara Streisand, opened in September 2021 in the cinema museum created by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“This is a historical building and a longstanding institution,” says Raphaël François, sporting his trademark messy hair and blond beard. Heading up the kitchen team, he has created a “multi-ethnic” menu for the lunch service – between 800 and 1,000 covers per day, generally museum visitors – and a “slightly more traditional concept” for the dinner service, including Caesar salad, smoked fish rillettes, prime rib of beef and Tomahawk steak delivered on a cart and sliced at the table, as well as cheese boards, and chocolate tart.

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© Wonho Frank Lee
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© Wonho Frank Lee

Originally from Tournai in Belgium, the chef has lived in the United States for almost ten years. He worked as the executive chef at the Connaught in London (the hotel’s Hélène Darroze restaurant received two Michelin stars under his management), but was then hired to head up Le Cirque in New York in 2014. This was a “childhood dream come true” for Raphaël François, who started his career washing pots for chef Claude Lavallée in his hometown, before climbing the ladder in Brussels, then in Paris at the Crillon and George V hotels.

Straddling States

Raphaël François, 41, now splits his time between the West Coast and Washington D.C., where his restaurant Le DeSales reopened in January after almost a two-year closure. This summer, he will be launching two new establishments in Los Angeles: an Italian trattoria and a restaurant combining Mediterranean dishes and Latin American recipes. And then there is Tesse, inaugurated in 2018, where he serves “French family cooking” inspired by “what my grandparents and my mother used to cook in Pyrex casserole dishes and cast-iron pans.” The menu includes hand-cut fries, home-made charcuterie, creamed chicken, and apple compote.

The chef has built his Californian empire with the help of local investors, including Carl Schuster, sommelier Jordan Ogron, and Bill Chait, the president of the chic bakery chain Tartine based in California and South Korea. “You can no longer just be a chef in the United States,” says the ever-rushed Raphaël François, calling us while wolfing down a meal. “If you want to make it in this job, you need to be able to control everything: costs – food, staff, taxes – communication, social media, interior design, and even the music! What’s more, restaurant prices are higher than ever. Tesse was five million dollars, and Fanny’s was even more.”

“It’s not enough to simply serve good food anymore,” adds the chef. “You have to be comfortable with numbers and be business-minded.” However, this doesn’t mean that the menu is an afterthought. Quite the opposite. At Fanny’s, he has introduced a recipe from his “second mentor,” the Belgian chef Michel Theurel: a prime rib of beef weighing in at almost 240 ounces, baked in a sea-salt crust. This shell caramelizes the meat and locks in the flavor. “Simple and traditional; it’s the perfect dish to share with friends!”

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© Bénédicte Castillo

Prime Rib Baked in a Salt Crust

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 prime rib of beef, around 3.3 or 4.4 lbs.
2.2 lbs. sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Preparation

1. The day before, use a large mixing bowl to combine the sea salt and 1 cup of water to create a consistent paste. Cover the entire surface of the meat with the salt and leave to rest on a plate in the fridge for 8 hours or overnight.
2. The following day, remove the layer of salt and set aside. Generously massage the surface of the meat with the black pepper, then coat the top of the prime rib with the mixture of water and sea salt.
3. Bake in the oven at 420°F for 10 minutes.
4. Lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for another 30-40 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and leave the meat to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Advice from the Chef

“I recommend serving this meat dish with hand-cut fries and a dandelion salad topped with a red wine vinaigrette. You can also add small potatoes into the oven dish along with garlic and shallots for the last 30 minutes of baking. French peas or a shallot fondue would also go well! For drinks, I suggest a wine aged in oak barrels – Bordeaux, Cahors, or Minervois – or a Tavel rosé. If you prefer an American variety, try a Cabernet Franc from California, a Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Grenache. And if you like something fizzier, choose a Trappist or an amber beer.”

 

Article published in the May 2022 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.

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