DECEMBER 2003 (201) THE BEST OF BERGEN
Chef Gaspard Caloz brings a taste of the good life to customers
BY DEBRA ANDERSON
Ask a famous chef his recipe for success and he just might reveal the secret ingredient to be his wife. Gaspard Caloz, of Northvale's Madeleine's Petit Paris, surely does.
Swiss-born Caloz and his wife, Madeleine, have been satiating discriminating palates for more than three decades, most of that time right here in Bergen. Caloz is a highly decorated chef whose stints in some of Manhattan's top kitchens positioned him for his own hit restaurants in Bergenfield and now Northvale. By his side is Madeleine, the operation's front person on whose petite but capable shoulders falls the job of assuring that patrons are warmly welcomed and having a good time. "She's the boss," quips Caloz one morning over coffee and delicate French pastries at their restaurant. "I'm the little boss," Madeleine corrects, with a smile and a twinkle in her blazing blue eyes. Caloz gets the serious last word in, though. "It's important to have someone say 'hello' when coming and 'goodbye' when leaving," he says. "Here, we want to greet everyone."
It's clear from the morning's conversation that the pair has perfected their teamwork. They met more than 30 years ago when working in the restaurant of the Swiss hotel Eden in Lugano, near the Italian border. Madeleine, at the time, was a recent business school graduate.
Young and adventurous, they married in 1971 and left Switzerland for restaurant work in St. Maarten where they made contacts that led them to the United States several months later.
The rest of their story is the stuff of American apple pie and vanilla ice cream.
"We thought we would go back to Switzerland one day," says Madeleine. "But Gaspard liked the new opportunities for cooking for large crowds (here)."
"We love this country," adds Caloz."There's no better country in the world; it's the land of opportunity."
The opportunities that came Caloz's way were no ordinary ones: After sharpening his knives in the large kitchens of Philadelphia's Downington Inn and Riverfront Restaurant, Caloz untied his apron strings and headed to The Big Apple to lead the 35-chef staff at New York's Tavern on the Green. From there he went to the top spot at Leona Helmsley's Park Lane Hotel, then on to the same prestigious position at The St. Regis.
Accolades, too, were sprinkled into the mix as the years went by. In 1981 he was named Chef of the Year by the Delaware Valley Chef Association, and that same year he was inducted into the American Academy of Chefs, The Golden Spoon in Philadelphia and Copa d'Oro in Romea. In 1988, as part of the Big Apple New York Culinary Olympic Team, he won three gold medals.
Why, with a resume such as his, would Caloz want to leave such a life behind and strike out on his own? "It's always a chefs dream to open his own place," says Caloz simply, "to do what he likes to do." In 1988, when The St. Regis Hotel closed for renovations, the couple took over a Bergenfield storefront pizza parlor and had it renovated to create Chez Madeleine, the hit "bring-your-own" bistro.
Now at Madeleine's Petit Paris, the duo works in tandem to create what is consistently reviewed as exquisite French cuisine served in an atmosphere that is homey and personal. The restaurant - which won Zagat's prestigious Best Restaurant award last year and also made Gourmet's Top Tables - has both intimate seating and two rooms for larger private functions that also serve as the site of regular public dances, chef demonstrations and candlelight dinners hosted by the owners. Decorated in warm blue and mauve-toned Jacobean florals, the place exudes European elegance and has a menu and wine list to match. The fare is proudly traditional, with creative specials that Caloz explains are designed to supplement trademark dishes like Crepe Madeleine, Dover Sole Meuniere and Steak au Poivre. "Our customers depend on our menu, so it stays the same," he says.
The secret to the food's consistency, continues Caloz easily, is all in the planning.
Caloz speaks in a no-fuss manner about the preparation of his sophisticated cuisine that includes signature dishes. "It's simple arithmetic," he says. "You have to keep it simple so you can know what's going on." As even banquet meals are made to order by the four-person staff, Caloz adds that common sense is key. "I define a chef by how he makes the soup, the shortcuts he takes," says Caloz. "What's important is common sense and cleanliness. It's most important to have a clean apron." Patrons regularly stop into the sparkling kitchen to greet Caloz on the job. When he does appear in the dining room, it's often to join with his wife in a rousing birthday or anniversary serenade. "Our customers are so nice; they are our friends," Madeleine elaborates. "They say, 'It's like coming home.'" When not at the restaurant, Caloz takes to the golf course and the couple enjoys relaxing in their Dumont home, where they have resided for 20 years. "I think it's a great area to live," says Caloz.
Chez Madeleine / Madeleine's Petit Paris, catering for all occasions