Five Questions: Pierre Calmels, Chef/Owner, Bibou

Chef Pierre Calmels, veteran of New York City’s Daniel and our own Le Bec-Fin, is on the verge of opening Bibou in the old Pif space at 1009 South Eighth Street. I caught up with the chef for a quick Q&A about his upcoming BYOB, set to open the first week in May. (Click the picture for a larger version of the hot-off-the-press menu.)

You were Le Bec-Fin’s executive chef for five years. What influences from your time there can diners expect to see at Bibou?
At Le Bec-Fin, we pushed the limits of freshness and quality. Every sauce was made to order. I loved working like that, and that’s just what I’ll do here.

We’ve seen a lot of new French places open up in the last year. What will set Bibou apart?
Well, many of those places have chefs that are not French. I’m French. I trained in French kitchens for 12 years. It will be totally authentic.

What are some of your favorite ingredients?
Butter. I love butter. There are so many different aspects of its flavor. And whole fish. I just love getting a whole fish and breaking it down. So few places do this anymore. I like starting with a whole fish, a whole baby lamb, a whole rack of veal, and breaking it down myself. Younger chefs, they don’t know how to do this anymore. You put a rack of veal in front of them and they look at it like it’s from a whole different world, but I teach them.

What’s your take on foie gras? It’s included on your preliminary menu. Have you thought about how you might handle protesters if they show up?
Foie gras is something I have to have on the menu. I might decide to run it as a special. It’s a frustrating issue.

Pif had many devoted fans. Were you among them? How do you feel about taking over a space that was so special for so many diners?
My wife Charlotte and I got married twice, once in France and once here. Both times, afterwards, we had dinner at Pif. As we’re working on the space, I keep saying to Charlotte, “Remember that time we were here?” It’s emotional for us, too.