After a year at what some might call the finest restaurant in New York City -- Le Cirque -- chef Olivier Reginensi wanted to spread his wings. The French-born culinary wonder moved to San Francisco to become sous chef at The Ritz-Carlton, but ended up returning to New York, taking positions in the kitchens at the Essex House and Daniel. Now, he's back as the executive chef at the restaurant where his New York career started:?Le Cirque.

 

When you first came to New York in 1993, was it a big culture shock for you?

 

Yes. There were many things I was not used to, but I love New York and I embrace it.

 

Why did you choose to return to Le Cirque?

 

Well, because they asked me to come back. Yes, I could have said no, but it's a great challenge.

 

What is your favorite dish on the menu to cook?

This is a hard thing to choose, but I am a lover of the classics. I like to re-create the classic dishes, such as the rack of lamb from when I previously worked at Le Cirque.

Is the menu very different from when you were first there?

The menu has become more modern, with the help of previous chefs who added their own unique touches. We continue to build and evolve our menu but still maintain the Le Cirque classics that everyone has loved for so many years.

What do Americans have wrong about French food?

For people in the United States and people who travel, most think France is Paris, and when they say, "Oh, that's a French bistro with steak frites and this and that," it's mostly a bistro from Paris. France is completely different from one region to another one.

You used to be a private chef for a prominent New York family. What was that like?

It was an interesting job. Unfortunately I cannot name those people -- I have a privacy policy. They're really powerful. I worked seven years for this family, [and] it was a great experience. Instead of doing a small souffle, you do a souffle for eight or 12 -- you need to have the technique to produce those kind of plates. That's a big challenge because that's not something you do in a restaurant. In school in France you learn to cook big dishes, because before the restaurant even existed the big chefs were working with private families. The big names were working for the King of France or the Duke of Orleans.