I remember working as a young cook in Chicago. I really didn’t know much and just wanted to learn more about food. And I knew I wanted to work for the best.
Everyone talked about this one restaurant. (Mostly the older chefs) a French restaurant in a suburbs, with a French Chef named Banchet
They talked about how that restaurant changed the way Chicago thought about dining and food. I made it my goal to work under him at Le Francais….but
they told me I couldn’t. Because Banchet no longer had the restaurant and was retired, my hopes and dreams were crushed.
But then one day in 1999 the news broke that Chef Jean Banchet was coming back to Chicago to take over Le Francais again. This was my chance. A once in a life time opportunity to work for a chef with such linage that ties to Chefs like Fernand Point and Paul Bocuse.
A friend help me set up an interview with Banchet. I put on my best JC penny suit and told my mom I was going on an interview in Wheeling, and also asked her where wheeling was.
And next thing I knew… a legend was sitting across from me telling me all about the restaurant .
He said; “I like you Reon”. ( His broken English on how to pronounce Ryan)
“If you want the job it’s yours. It pays 6.25 and you will work 6 days a week, and I want you to stay for more then a year.”
I said “Yes!!” before he could even finish. I was now a cook for Jean Banchet at Le Francais.
I still to this day remember the smells of walking into the kitchen, the flavors of the sauces we used to make. The roasting of meats and the classic presentations, letting the flavor of the food speak for itself.
He was a master of French food and this was like my bachelor degree in Classic French cooking. The things I learned in that kitchen behind those walls would shape me to be the cook I am today. I could not have worked at the French Laundry with out going through the gauntlet of Jean Banchet first. He whipped me into shape, taught me the classics, and showed us all what it takes to be a great cook.
I remember later in life after I left when I was traveling, I would call him just to chat and ask advice. He was always happy to talk. Even though our conversations were short, he always said a lot to make me think.
When I opened Butter, my first chef job, he randomly stopped in one day to check the place out ( that’s what he said)…but I knew was there to make sure I was ok.
He told me he was so proud of the cook I had become. I will never forget that day. He walked in the dining room with a smile ear to ear and just said; “Hello Reon”.
I only hope I learned enough from him, I wish I could have asked more questions during our time together, but one thing I will never forget is how he put me on the proper road to become successful by teaching us how to cook things the right way.
You will be missed Chef, but what you left behind is enough for 100 lifetimes.