Tempo and Fleurie
This is the classic battle. The lines are drawn so clearly, it’s almost cartoonish. Fleurie is everything Americans think of when they envision a traditional French restaurant: white tablecloths, classical techniques, measured head chef. Tempo is the France Americans don’t know: quirky décor, fusion techniques, flashy head chef.
Chef Brian Helleberg at Fleurie wants his guests to have the romantic, special occasion feel every time they come into his restaurant. To that end, he favors straightforward dishes that don’t incorporate superfluous ingredients.
“I like things that are rich in terms of calories and flavor but not huge portions,” Helleberg said. “I like dishes that showcase all of the animal and do it in a style that they have been doing for a long time.”
Brice Cunningham, Tempo’s chef and owner, wants diners to feel like they are transported to another place when they visit his restaurant. He likened his cuisine to what he calls French “truck stop” food, which he says in no way resembles what we in America think of as truck stop food. It’s more peasant food, he says, to which he adds a variety of other influences, including Asian and contemporary American.
The two opposite chefs, though, are at the moment both interested in at least one humble ingredient: water. During an interview with Cunningham, he jumped behind the sous vide machine in his kitchen to talk about the effects of moisture on the cooking process for a potato salad he’s made in the past and plans to put back this spring.
“The sous vide took the water out, then when you cook it, the sugar comes along, and the potato comes out sweeter,” he said. “That salad was so sexy and so beautiful and so good.”
Cunningham likes the way water is able to reinforce his love of showcasing an entire animal, as it does on his lobster dish.
“We try to let nothing hit the trash can,” he said. “We put the lobster shell in water, strain it out, reduce [the stock] until it is like a syrup, and round it back out with butter. Water is the vehicle that helps us to trap those flavors rather than them being left in the shell. It’s lobster with lobster, and we couldn’t do it without water.”