Owner: La Cachette Bistro
1733 Ocean Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Yelp: 3.5 stars
Interview Date: Monday, July 12, 2010
Jean Francois Meteigner, owner of La Cachette Bistro, was born and raised in France, and he remembers making and selling crepes with a friend that they proceeded to sell to their classmates. Of course – they ate many of the crepes themselves, too!
Jean Francois’ first apprenticeship was at the age of 15, when he worked at a high-end restaurant called Trois Gros. For three years he worked at all of the kitchen stations and learned his craft. “One day a week we would go to cooking school,” he says. “We would go to school in the morning, go back to the restaurant to help with the lunch rush, go back to school and then back to the restaurant for the dinner rush.”
Following that, he went to Bordeaux, where he worked at Le Chapon Fin restaurant for one year, went to the army for one year, and then returned to Le Chapon Fin for another six months before moving on to Paris. In Paris, Jean Francois worked at Le Chiberta, focusing mainly on appetizers and desserts. Then he went to L’ Archestrade – a three-star restaurant run by Chef Alain Sendereus. For a year he worked at the dessert, fish and meat stations.
Jean Francois left France for Los Angeles in 1980 and soon found work at L’ Orangerie, which is no longer open. He started as a cook and became an Executive Chef at the age of 26 years old. After 10 years at L’ Orangerie, Jean Francois opened Cicada with a partners. After two years, Jean Francois sold his shares and moved on to become a consultant with the Bel Age Hotel.
In 1994, Jean Francois opened the first La Cachette on Little Santa Monica in Century City. “We opened in the middle of a recession – I seem to have a tendency to do that,” he says. “I opened it as a bistro – high-volume, affordable food. As the concept developed, however, it evolved into a more upscale restaurant. Every year we upgraded something to make it higher quality.”
In 2008, Jean Francois began working on opening a second La Cachette in Santa Monica, but meanwhile renovations on Beverly Glen Blvd. made it increasingly difficult for guests to access the Century City location. “They basically locked up access to the restaurant,” he says.
After serious consideration, Jean Francois decided to close the original location and move everything to Santa Monica. The new location opened August 28, 2009.
Sixty percent of the menu at La Cachette is French, and all of it is prepared using French techniques, but there is definitely an international approach to food, including some sashimi and specials like beef chilli.
“I was never too French,” says Jean Francois. “My grandfather was from Naples, and I cook a lot of Italian food, along with Californian and Asian … a blend of different styles. The truth is that I’m not that French anymore – I’m more American than French, and I don’t want to be stuck with just one style of food.” Everything for the restaurant is cooked on-site, including the smoked fish, desserts, fruit purees and breads (except for the table bread).
“Everything is fresh,” says Jean Francois. “I go to the farmers market every Wednesday and Saturday and make sure that I get the freshest, best ingredients. I incorporate as many California seasonal ingredients as possible and try to stay green.”
Jean Francois says that he thought the transition from one location to the second would be easier, but he feels he is still getting used to the new space and clientele. The best part of the new location is the more functional kitchen, a newer building, outside seating and nice air quality. As for the hardest part: “The stress of the economy,” he says. “I don’t think it’s about how much I’m working or how great our food is right now – it’s about the economy. One week it’s busy, the next it’s slow. The restaurant business in a recession is hell – you have to watch every single penny.” To boost the restaurant’s visibility, La Cachette engages in lots of marketing. “We do everything – promotions, special events, blogs, Twitter – you name it, we do it,” he says.
And for all of the stress that Jean Francois openly discussed (which I appreciated since most people don’t go into that during these interviews), he is obviously very happy being a restaurant owner. “I’m good at it – it is hard work, but I love it,” he says.