Claude Le Tohic does not hide his joy at seeing his San Francisco-based French restaurant O’ get decorated by the Michelin Guide this year. “We’ve come a long way and it was unexpected,” he says.
Opened in June of 2019, the pandemic has not spared O’. Indeed the restaurant had to close for several months starting in mid-March 2020 and could eventually only reopen three days a week. “We went from 100 employees to six. It was very hard,” recalls Claude Le Tohic.
“But the fact was that we always kept a light on at One65,” he says, referring to the address for the multi-level culinary destination he has created with “a French flair.” His pastry shop and bistro offered their specialties for take out “But a restaurant without customers is not a real restaurant. You lose the hospitality aspect of the business,” he said. The goal is to reopen completely by the end of the year and thus re-expand his team–today they are 40. “With the borders being closed, we haven’t had as much manpower as before,” says the chef, who hopes to recruit more easily with the lifting of the travel ban.
Despite the difficult period, Chef Tohic has more than managed. His cuisine is generous, masterful and refined without being pretentious. The restaurant is called O’ “like water in French,” he says. The Breton born Chef was raised “by the sea” so he likes, he says, “everything that is seafood–on the menu there are always shellfish, crustaceans, fish… but I also try to incorporate good products from the land.” Caviar is another specialty often on the menu. “Every day is Christmas for us,” he says with a smile.
Four types of tasting menus are offered to customers: one large (9 courses) and one small (5 courses) which both include meats and seafood and one large and one small, with 9 and 5 courses, respectively, that are vegetarian. The menus change according to the availability of the best seasonal products. Among the dishes, “seafood salad with dashi jelly, ossetra caviar and seasonal vegetables” or “black cod roasted with coriander, barigoule juice, artichoke and black truffle” are currently on offer. “I really want to explain my dishes well–people have to understand what they are eating,” insists the culinary expert.
For this “meilleur ouvrier de France,” James Beard Foundation award winner, and former chef of a three-star Michelin restaurant in Las Vegas (Joël Robuchon’s restaurant), what counts is precisely the satisfaction of gourmets and gourmands. “The most important thing is to make people happy, to please them. It is for them that we cook. We have the chance, in our profession, to provide beautiful emotions. This is pleasant, especially in these sad times.”
(For more information, see the original French version of this story on French Morning by Sophia Qadiri)