Little town, big star: Gordonsville’s Rochambeau lands a world-class chef

Recently arrived from France, chef Bernard Guillot has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants for more than three decades. Photo: Levi Cheff Recently arrived from France, chef Bernard Guillot has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants for more than three decades. Photo: Levi Cheff

Rumors had been circulating for months that a major talent would take over the kitchen at Gordonsville’s Restaurant Rochambeau. He was coming in from France, where he had worked at two Michelin-starred restaurants. His sublime culinary skills had carried him around the world, from Portugal, to Tokyo, to Corsica, and to the United States, where in the early ’90s he cooked for world leaders as personal chef for then-UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

The rumors morphed into reality two weeks ago with the arrival of Bernard Guillot, 60, whom the State Department granted an O-1 visa, which is reserved for individuals who “demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim.”

Art on the plate: Seared filet of striped bass with spring vegetables, a la Guillot. Photo: Levi Cheff

Born and raised in Brittany, on the northwest coast of France, Guillot lived most recently in Reims, 90 miles northeast of Paris. He will now live in Gordonsville with his wife, whom me met in Portugal, and three children, ages 5, 8, and 12.

“We are all very happy to be here,” Guillot says, sitting in a dining room at Rochambeau in a crisp white chef’s jacket. “For me, to cook in a small town in the country, is a dream come true.”

Rochambeau occupies the quaint storefront space that was once home to the highly regarded Pomme, which put Gordonsville on the radar of food critics nationwide. In 2017, Pomme made the Los Angeles Times list of the 100 best brunch places in the United States. But after the chef passed away, Pomme’s reputation flagged.

“The people in the street said we need another great restaurant,” says Jacqueline Gupton, who co-owns Rochambeau with her husband. “Pomme and its French chef had set the precedent. That’s why I felt I needed another French chef.”

The Guptons worked with a restaurant consultant whose top recommendation was Guillot. Frankly, it was kind of a no-brainer. Guillot had worked for France’s renowned Troisgros family, whose restaurants—Les Freres Troisgros, later renamed La Maison Troisgros—have held three Michelin stars since 1968, and at Girardet, in Switzerland, also a Michelin three-star.

Guillot, who had been cooking at Rochambeau for only a week when we interviewed him, says he plans to change his menu with the seasons and offer prix fixe choices at three price points: $35, $55, and $120. The most expensive option comes with a wine pairing for each course. Rochambeau will also offer Sunday brunch, from 11am to 3:30pm, at $75 including wine.

Guillot says he plans to work with local purveyors; his first menu included a dish made with pastured lamb from Retreat Farm, in Rapidan. “I am only now getting to know a few producers,” Guillot says, taking a deep breath and sighing. “I will need a little more time, you know?”

One sure source of local ingredients is the herb garden in raised beds just outside the kitchen at Rochambeau. But Guillot will use some imported goods, including his proprietary blend of 21 spices that he has collected by trading with other chefs during his world travels.

“I make this all by hand,” he says. “It has been many years in the making.”

And for Gordonsville, Guillot may just turn out to have been worth waiting for.

Restaurant Rochambeau, 115 S. Main St., Gordonsville. (540) 832-0130, restaurantrochambeau.com