Calling someone out of the blue and inquiring into various personal and business affairs is not my favorite part of this job. But when I reached chef-owner Bruce Naftaly this morning, he sounded downright excited. You see, Naftaly and his wife and business partner Sara are very hands-on. So much so that there’s no taking the night off and leaving the kitchen in the hands of a sous chef. Bruce Naftaly says he has cooked every dinner Le Gourmand has served, except for a few weeks eight years ago when he landed in the hospital. Dining at his restaurant “is like having people coming into your studio."
That pace, that schedule, get rather tiring.
“It’s wonderful and passionate and intense,” says Naftaly, “but you can’t do anything else.”
After Le Gourmand and Sambar bid Seattle farewell in June, the chef plans to finally write that cookbook he’s been planning for a decade or two, and continue teaching classes. Sara is interested in pursuing a bakery, and plans to work on a cocktail book with longtime Sambar barman Jay Kuehner. Also high on the couple’s to-do list: Spending more time with their son.
When Naftaly opened Le Gourmand back in 1985, his concept was a bold experiment for the time—classic French fare, made with seasonal, locally sourced Northwest ingredients. Today, the farm-to-table concepts he helped pioneer are practically gospel to the current generation of chefs, many of whom were born after the restaurant opened. When the Naftalys opened Sambar in 2003, no bars “were handling cocktails like you would an haute French sauce,” says Naftaly. Now the spirited experimentation espoused by Kuehner and other bartenders is all but expected when Seattleites go out for cocktails.
And while the economic downturn and the current trend toward casual dining have affected the Naftalys’ bottom line, Bruce says the decision was personal rather than financial.
So, Seattle, you have little more than three months to make a final visit to Le Gourmand. Starting in March the restaurant will offer a farewell menu featuring the greatest hits of nearly three decades. “I’m still extremely passionate about the whole thing, and I want to go out while I’m still feeling that way,” says Naftaly.