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Le Pichet and Caf� Presse

Seattle's everyday French connections

Americans often conjure up heavy sauces, heavy draperies and high prices when we think of French cuisine. Not that those are bad things, but there are folks around town who offer a more realistic, modern view of French food. Two of those people are Jim Drohman and Joanne Herron of Le Pichet and Caf� Presse.

Joanne hails from Nebraska, attending the University of Nebraska but graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in Journalism. She spent 12 years with Marketplace Catering (which changed to the Ruins midway through her time there) in charge of service. She also put her imprint on decorating for the events which have a reputation of being visually amazing. She is very interested in the historical preservation of Seattle and is currently on the Pike Place Market Historical Commission.

Above and at right: Jim at Cafe Presse, Joanne at Le Pichet

Jim Drohman is from Seattle and started cooking at 15 to earn money for school. He attended the University of Washington in engineering and went on to achieve a Masters degree in Optimal Control System Design and Evaluation (which he's willing to sell to someone who might use it more than he does). After receiving his undergraduate degree in 1985, he began work at Boeing. He "didn't enjoy it that much" and missed cooking. Deciding to do some catering, he hired on with Marketplace Catering. The friendship between Jim and Joanne began.

Marketplace Catering/Ruins owner Joe McDonnal helped Jim find a cooking school in France to attend. In France, if you aren't destined for college, the high schools teach typical classes as well as a trade. L'Ecole Superieure de Cuisine Francaise�Ferrandi, operated by the Paris Chamber of Commerce, also takes on foreign students. Enter Jim Drohman, 28, studying French cuisine with French teenagers, paying for it with his Boeing 401k. You have got to love this story. He would often help them with their homework (hey, he was a certified engineer) and they repaid him in beer. He even got his French high school equivalent. As he says, "If you want to understand the basis of cuisine, go to France. And this was cheaper than the Culinary Institute of America."

He and his wife Sheila loved the adventure. They lived in an apartment that was 150 square feet, including the bathroom. Clearly, this was not an apartment meant for entertaining. Everything social happened outside the apartment and the local caf�/bar was where they met friends, met after work and finished off the evening with a cognac. On Sunday, everything was closed except the caf�/bar and they began having dinners there. The French neighborhood caf�/bar meets a very specific need.

Returning to the States, Jim took over the kitchen at Marketplace Catering where Joanne continued her reign in service. He stayed for a year, then moved to Campagne where he worked as the lunch lead, pastry chef, sous and executive chef, staying for eight years.

"Campagne was a great experience for me," says Jim. "It was a great opportunity and I loved their style of food. But I was really more enthralled with Caf� Campagne and we made it more reflective of caf�s in France."

Jim had always dreamed of owning his own restaurant. He brought the idea of a caf�/bar called Le Pichet to Joanne and she signed on. They opened in 2000 with the idea it would be a place people would have coffee, a snack, read the newspaper, socialize�like the caf�/bar Jim and Sheila used in France.

"It was definitely a scary thing," recalls Jim. "I was used to Campagne. We had a big staff, 30 people, and three menus each for the restaurant and the Caf�. But for me it wasn't an intensive cooking job. I wanted to get back to that." At Le Pichet, he would be on the line all the time. He was excited about recreating the caf�/bar and showing people how the typical French person eats. "We wanted to show that French food could be simple and unaffected with an affordable price point. We still have wines by the glass starting at $3.50."

Quiche de jour!  Yum.

Le Pichet's dinner business took off right away, but it took a few years to get the lunch trade going. "It's evolved into a neighborhood restaurant vs. the caf�/bar we anticipated. As a chef, it's hard to keep your ego in check. I wanted to show we could do nice things. If it's too simple, it doesn't seem impressive," explains Jim. "So Le Pichet is more of a full-blown restaurant."

The caf�/bar idea has resurfaced with Caf� Presse, opened in June 2007. "We wanted to make sure people knew it wasn't Capitol Hill Pichet. That's where the �presse' came in�buy a magazine or newspaper and you own the table. We don't hustle people out even during dinner time. We offer free Wi-Fi and there is power behind the banquettes for your laptop." A TV shows European soccer and French-centric events like the Tour de France and rugby (when the French are in it). Mexican soccer is shown as well, but if you're looking for American football, you won't find it. Only 20 of their 80 seats are held for reservations; the rest are for walk-ins. "We want Presse to be a place where people drop in anytime. People have alternative schedules and may want steak frites at 1 a.m. or a glass of wine at 3 p.m. I knew I could use a place like that in my life," laughs Jim. "There's great food in Seattle, but the bandwidth of options is restricted."

The "presse" of Cafe Presse

Food-wise, the two locations differ as well. "Pichet is a small neighborhood Parisian restaurant. Those have roots in the southwest of France," Jim explains. "Simple foods like confit, pate, charcuterie, cassoulet are served. Presse is a very Parisian street corner caf�/bar. It's streamlined and modern (as in the last hundred years vs. the last 400 years). Food is geared to people on the go. You can take a sandwich with you, you can cut it in fours and have a glass of Kir with friends, you can stay and eat the whole thing for a meal. We have steak tartare and rolled omelettes."

Whatever your craving at whatever time, Le Pichet and Caf� Presse are your connection to good, simple everyday French food.

Le Pichet
1933 1st Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
Sun-Thurs 8 a.m.-midnight
Fri-Sat 8 a.m.-2 a.m.
Caf� Presse
1117 12th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122
Daily 7 a.m.-2 a.m.

Nov/Dec 2007

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