September 2, 2014

From the Editor

A nod of the toque to our three top chefs for sharing the recipes of their favorite concoctions (“Cook and Tell,” p. 86). May you work them with tasty results. The three masters have established themselves as lords of fine dining in Southwest Florida. It’s not so easy to win such distinction, and—in the name of understanding what it takes—I want to tell the story of someone striving mightily now to reach this level of success.

Meet Paris-born Christian Vivet, charming, smart, passionate about food and wine. And know that he truly started here at the bottom, building his reputation as the underground guy. He arrived in Southwest Florida with strong credentials: a restaurant management degree from the culinary school in Poligny; educational travels to Greece, Turkey, Germany; stints in kitchens and dining rooms in San Francisco, at Epcot Center’s French Pavilion, Jean Paul’s French Corner on Sanibel, WCI properties such as Tarpon Cove. And then, in five years at Caterease in Naples, learning software for event management, “I saw 250 caterers doing their business, and thought I could do it better.”

That’s when he went underground, and the word started to spread about his skills. Once a month, at his Estero home and others’, he and his wife, Mari, began putting together themed dinners and talking to guests about the offerings. They cooked up, for example, a casual Low Country boil and just as deftly recreated the very same menu of food and wines the White House had served to Queen Elizabeth. They were getting between 35 and 40 guests per outing. Over the three years of doing this, they went not for profit but for learning. “We found out,” says Christian, “that a professional couple with kids will not pay more than $75 a person for dinner. When no one signed up for our wild game dinner (pheasant, venison, wild boar), it was obvious as to what not to serve in this part of the country. We realized you must use only quality ingredients, take no shortcuts in time and preparation, and bring your passion to the table every time out.”

They were getting some nice buzz from all this and, not surprisingly, many requests for catering. It was time to phase from the underground moveable feasts to the next professional level. They leased a kitchen for a year to ramp up the catering business. Then, a year and a half ago, they relocated the operation to Fort Myers. It started with one table as a showcase for the catering services, but then the dream of a restaurant took over. Last July, with some fresh paint and fixing up, they opened up tables to the public. “The first night,” says Christian, “six people—mostly friends—showed up.” Before they could even start to fret, some rave reviews in local newspapers got the foodies moving. Now, most nights the 10-table Blue Windows Bistro is, says Christian, “pretty much full.”

He says he didn’t expect to do French cuisine, “but when I wrote the menu, it came out French.” Of the 10 entrées, he reports, the roast duckling with pomegranate sauce and the veal sweetbreads in Calvados sauce are the most popular. “The sauce makes the dish,” he declares. With the catering
business booming, Blue Windows Bistro isn’t open every night. People have to call first to make sure the bistro’s serving on a given night. “I didn’t believe people would like this,” says Christian, “but it’s working better than I ever imagined. It seems to make getting a table here something very exclusive.” He appears to have opened a nice Blue Window of Opportunity here. But as Christian says, “We’re still a work in progress.” Will our dining lord-in-waiting find the success he’s wishing for? Stay tuned.

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