Chef Sebastien Agez has honed his skills in some of New York’s most iconic kitchens — Tavern on the Green, The Russian Tea Room and Cafe Des Artistes, to name a few. Now, he brings his native French fare to Tribeca’s Plein Sud, located in the Smyth Hotel, where he serves bold Provencal flavors as the newly named executive chef.
You were born in France and spent part of your career there. How is cooking for an American audience different from cooking for a French audience?
It is the same. I do not cook differently for any kind of audience. The French and Americans may approach food differently; but for me, it is important to bring people together for solid back-to-basics cooking.
Did you always want to cook French food? Is there another kind of cuisine you love to make (or eat)?
As a native Parisian, yes. I began my career in the Corporate Executive Dining Room of Hachette Fillipacchi Presse in Paris. I had the privilege of working in a two-star Michelin restaurant, L’Amphycles, where I learned consistency and creativity from prestigious culinary artisans. French food is my heart and soul. When I moved to the States, I had a variety of experiences working for embassies which required me to cook different types of cuisine, from Cyprian to Afghanistani, from Belgian to Asian. Every type is interesting and you find new tastes to incorporate into your cooking. My favorites are Moroccan and Persian.
You’re stepping in for another chef. What do you want to do differently? What is your vision?
Each chef is different. The prior chef offered more of what I would call a French-inspired “modern American” menu. My goal is to reintroduce the classics. We have revamped menus that combine hearty Provencal dishes with bistro fare. My vision is casual, French fine dining that is approachable and straightforward. While I offer the classics, I also hope to continue to add my own creations. One thing that remains important to me wherever I work is the understanding that everyone is important in the kitchen. Without the dishwashers and line cooks, I would not be able to do my job.
How do you balance the dining room expectations with those of hotel guests?
It is always a challenge. We have to balance the expectations of the Smyth Hotel guests by offering familiar dishes such as a shrimp cocktail or a burger. The Le Burger Royale — an 8-ounce stuffed cheeseburger with black truffle aioli served with frites — is one of our best-selling items. For the adventurous traveler, there is also an “a la Carte” menu to experience the more classic French dishes. I have also found that the downtown dining scene requires vegetarian options and created new items — such as the Red Beet Tartare with pine nuts, chives and mache salad — that satisfy those requests.
What meal would you cook to impress a date?
As a married man, I won’t reveal my secrets. For the men reading this, Plein Sud offers the perfect intimate atmosphere to take a date and it is not too late to make your Valentine’s Day reservations. Come dine at 85 West Broadway and I will personally make sure that you are wined and dined as if you were in France.
What’s your favorite dish to cook on the menu?
The Caramelized Sea Scallops with Pearl Pasta "Caviar" and Saffron Sauce. This is a dish that I personally created and people really enjoy the flavors and presentation. It requires French technique (Beurre Blanc) along with Italian (pearl pasta cooked like a risotto). A purely French dish on the menu that I like to cook, the Pot au Feu, is a clear stew of brisket, bone marrow and vegetables.