Thierry Rautureau is perhaps best known to Americans by his nickname, “the Chef in the Hat”. Having been a Seattleite for 30 years, the chef from the Vendée region hosts a weekly radio show and regularly appears on cooking programs on The Food Network, PBS and Bravo. His small screen appearances act as a second storefront for his café, Luc, which will be taking part in Seattle Restaurant Week from April 2–13.
France-Amérique: Americans have nicknamed you “the Chef in the Hat” in reference to the Dr. Seuss book and the Panama hat you’re always sporting. In your line of work, is it important to create a character in order to make a name for yourself in America?
Thierry Rautureau: American chefs already have a hard time breaking through, so as a foreigner, you’ve got to work twice as hard. I came here from Saint-Hilaire- de-Loulay in the Vendée region, with only 12 dollars in my pocket. I had nothing to lose. Whenever I introduce myself to people, and I’m wearing my hat and my chef’s whites embroidered with my nickname, they smile and think of the book The Cat in the Hat. People remember me! Whenever such opportunities come about, you have to grab them.
How important do you think your media career has been in your restaurants’ success?
The media has been key to my success in America. I opened my first restaurant, Rover, in Seattle in 1987. The interest in gourmet food was growing rapidly in New York, but no one on the East Coast had heard of any good restaurants in Washington State. Before the internet, TV was the only way to get myself known across the whole country. In 1989, I met Graham Kerr, host of the 1960s cooking show The Galloping Gourmet, and so I took the plunge. I appeared several times on Good Morning America and then on Ready, Set, Cook! Every time I’d go to New York to film a new program, it would draw media attention.
How do you choose which programs to go on?
I pick shows that match my personality. I’m not interested in shows like Top Chef, where the actual cooking is pushed into the background in favor of arguments and love stories. I took part in Top Chef Master U.S.A several times — as a contestant and then as a judge. The program recreates the challenge of preparing a restaurant before service. The contestants have a limited amount of time to discuss the menu, share out the tasks and cook. Since 2015, documentaries like Chef’s Table have given chefs a considerable amount of visibility. Each episode is filmed in the kitchens of some of the greatest restaurants in the world, and it’s available on Netflix, a platform that has nearly 100 million subscribers. Despite the show’s success, such media will never replace the honor of receiving a Michelin star.
Seattle Restaurant Week 2017 is taking place from April 2-13. What dishes would you recommend to those keen on discovering your café?
The duck rillettes is served with cubes of locally grown green apples. This sharp appetizer is the perfect way to start your dinner with us at Luc’s. For the main dish, I would suggest the trout which is caught from the rivers in the Cascade Range, east of Seattle. For dessert, go for the rhubarb feuilleté with pastry cream, served with a rhubarb sorbet and a sprinkling of toasted almonds.
2800 East Madison Street
Seattle, WA 98112