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The Comfort of Country

French chef leaves L.A. to bring bistro talents to Ventura.

June 12, 1997|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Didier Poirier had long imagined that one day he'd open his own restaurant in Los Angeles County. Having been a chef at Barsac Brasserie in North Hollywood, Fennel in Santa Monica and Patina and Citrus in Los Angeles, it made a lot of sense.

"But the life of a restaurant in L.A. is three months only," said Poirier, 34, a native of Le Mans, France. "And I've always loved the country outside of L.A. I've always loved the area from Camarillo to Ventura."

So instead of setting up his own establishment in a larger metropolis to the south, Poirier selected Ventura as the site of his first restaurant--71 Palm Restaurant, to be located at 71 N. Palm St.

Poirier, the head chef, will be joined by his wife, Nancy Kuhn Poirier, who will do some baking and handle the administration. Kuhn Poirier's parents, Lila and Ernie Kuhn, are purchasing the vacant building after a 1 1/2-year escrow process.

71 Palm, which will be renovated in Craftsman-style design, is expected to open in mid-September.

"The restaurant is going to be French country food," said Poirier, who currently is a consulting chef for the Marina Yacht Club in Marina del Rey. "Forget nouveau cuisine, forget creams and butters. Everybody's thing is comfort food, bistro-style food."

Though Poirier said he fears that referring to his cuisine as "sophisticated" will scare off diners, he will be serving dishes that Ventura County restaurant-goers may not have seen locally.

"In the winter we'll do a lot of game," Poirier said. "Goose, wild boar, pheasant. You can see these in L.A. in some bistro-style restaurants."

Throughout the year, he said, the restaurant will offer a variety of seafood, pasta and meat dishes, along with soups and some Italian fare. There will be Friday night bouillabaisse specials and a number of wine-tasting dinners.

"I want to help put Ventura on the map," Poirier said. "People go from L.A. to Santa Barbara. Why shouldn't they stop here?"

For those who want a taste of Poirier's culinary skills, he offer a cooking class June 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Toby's Kitchen and Gifts, 2721 E. Main St., Ventura. Cost is $35. For reservations, call 643-4577.

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Ventura's Cafe Zack, normally closed on Mondays, will change its routine this next week when it teams with the Ojai Vineyard to present the restaurant's first winemaker dinner.

Restaurant owners Linda Bright and her brother John Cooper compared notes with vintner Adam Tolmach to pair the Zack cuisine with the Vineyard drink.

This Monday's five-course meal, prepared by Cooper, will open with marinated scallops, horseradish potatoes and a smoked-salmon puff pastry served with a 1996 Vin Gris, followed by a bouillabaisse and a 1996 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon and then polenta with mushrooms and duck confit served with a 1995 Chardonnay.

For the main dish, Cooper will prepare herb-crusted lamb with rosemary potatoes and vegetables, and Tolmach will provide a 1995 Syrah. And for dessert, prepared by Bright, it will be a fresh fruit tart and a 1996 Ice Wine Viognier.

Cost for the debut dinner is $55, which includes tax and tip. For reservations, call 643-9445.

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Paul Campbell has heard all of the sarcastic comments about male cooks, but he doesn't let them get him down. And as chairman of the second annual "Men Can Cook Too!" gourmet food and wine festival June 21 in Thousand Oaks, he's out to make a major statement.

"You've got some guys just doing it for fun and sometimes they don't know a lot," he said. "But for the most part, you've got some real gourmet cooks who like to really get into it. They bring old family recipes or ethnic recipes."

The festival, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Thousand Oaks, will feature 40 to 50 amateur chefs competing for awards in the categories of hors d'oeuvres, salads, entrees and desserts.

The event will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. in a park area north of 2801 Townsgate Road, next to the Hyatt Westlake Plaza. Admission is $20 advance, $25 at the gate. A free car show will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Call 371-0147 for registration.

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