There’s no menu at Chéri. Each morning, chef Alain Eoche wakes up and decides what he will cook that night based on his mood and the weather before visiting the market to get the freshest ingredients for appetizers, entrées, and desserts. “I live right above the restaurant, and I feel like Chéri is an extension of my house. It’s not really like a restaurant. It’s like people are coming to have dinner and drinks with me at my place.”
Eoche has always loved to cook, even as a young man living in France. “All of my friends would have parties when their parents went out of town. Not me, though–I had dinner parties,” 45 years later, everyone’s invited to taste this chef’s daily offering of fresh, organic meals. “I only buy organic food,” he stresses, “and I make everything myself–even the ketchup.”
The ketchup is for the burgers. “I’m always ready to prepare a tasty salad, fish entrée, or burger in case a customer has special dietary needs or restrictions,” he explains. “And that was the hardest thing about beginning to cook in America–cooking a burger. I never cooked burgers in France. It’s not part of the culture.” Burgers may not be very French, but Eoche puts a French twist on the American staple with caramelized onions, Brie cheese, and herb mayonnaise.
The real masterpiece, however, is Alain Eoche’s meal of the day. “I never use recipes when I cook,” he explains. “I always cook from memory since I have a very good memory for tastes and smells, and I use that to guide me in the kitchen.” Past dishes include mini zucchini stuffed with ratatouille and goat cheese, fish with a beurre blanc sauce (shallots cooked in champagne and butter), and mashed potatoes with olives and olive oil.
With its warm fireplace, grand piano, and bookshelf Chéri feels more like a chic, eccentric home than a restaurant. A lover of interior design and student of feng shui, Eoche decorated the entire restaurant himself and insists that the design is about the feeling or ambiance of the space. “Dinner is about more than just the food–it’s about the food, the lights, the music, the shape of the plate,” says the chef, “People always say, ‘I love the plates,’ or ‘I love your chairs!’ That doesn’t mean as much to me as when people say, ‘I love the atmosphere,’ or ‘I love the feeling of this place.’”
Alain Eoche says Chéri is everything he’d hoped it would be. After owning a restaurant in Paris for 20 years, he decided to move to New York — the city he had loved every since his first visit at 21 years old. “It was scary, but I just decided to do it. I felt as if I was watching my dream on a screen, and I wanted to step through the screen and into my dream.” Harlem is a far cry from Paris, but Eoche feels at home in the neighborhood’s friendly, kind, and welcoming community. Beyond that, he can’t describe how or why New York City stole his heart. “How can I explain that?” he exclaims. “It’s like when you fall in love with someone. You can’t put it into words why you love them–you just do.”