Chef Talk: An interview with Bistro 7 1/4's Alexander Svenne
Winnipeg Chef and Bistro 7 1/4 owner Alexander Svenne says his cooking is simple but flavourful. He takes traditional French cooking and plays with the preparation and ingredients to make it his own.
Alexander Svenne makes it all look easy.
He home-schools his three children, ages 14, 12 and eight.
He writes food columns for several food and lifestyle magazines and websites.
And every day, Svenne stocks the pantry and fridges, pays the bills, makes the meals and oversees the organized chaos that is life as the chef and owner of Bistro 7 1/4, one of Winnipeg's busiest independent restaurants.
The South Osborne eatery is a popular destination for locals and visitors looking for back-to-basics dishes that deliver grand, yet unpretentious flavours.
While the setting—a bustling Montreal-style bistro—draws crowds, it's Svenne's cooking that has earned Bistro 7 1/4 a very loyal following.
“I have a style which is all about making simple food with big flavours. I'm not a fussy cook,” says the 42-year-old.
He's down-to-earth, loves to talk about food, his family and his newest projects. (He's co-writing a cookbook cum culinary history/ food tales tome with his wife and co-owner Danielle.)
He is also one of the city's go-to chefs, donating his time and expertise for food-focused fundraisers like the annual 100-Mile dinner and Baconfest , among other charity galas.
Back at Bistro 7 1/4, Svenne's point of view is clear on the plate.
“I'm not really doing anything new. But we're doing new twists on old dishes,” he says without any hint of self-consciousness. “How we execute them is where the work and play comes in.”
You won't find frilly presentation—Svenne is interested in going way back in culinary history to mine traditional French cooking. And then he puts his own spin on it.
Cases in point: Duck confit, foie gras and chicken livers get the Svenne treatment with sautéed apples and spiced almond, sour cherries and brown butter, and dark ale with bacon and caramelized onions, respectively.
Cheeses—imported and local varieties—also get big play on the menu. Svenne is also a big fan of little plates, communal eating and the ritual of sharing food amongst friends.
That concept certainly isn't new but Bistro 7 1/4 has captured lightening in a bottle—creating a buzzing bistro that keeps foodies talking and diners coming back.
He was tracking success the moment he and Danielle, his high-school sweetheart, first opened in 2006.
They had 11 reservations that first night but an additional 30 people showed up. And, for better, not worse, they haven't stopped running since.
As Svenne says: “To date, that's been our slowest night.”
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