The Bijou Café in Sarasota has some incredible accolades to its name. Since 1990, it has been the recipient of the esteemed Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its outstanding wine selection. In 2014, the eatery received the highest Zagat rating in Sarasota County. But it comes from much humbler beginnings.
Chef/Owner, Jean-Pierre “JP” Knaggs was born in South Africa (which he describes as a “multi-cultural Mecca of cuisine”) to a French mother. He was drawn to cuisine at an early age and worked his way up from the bottom, training in several prestigious restaurants before spending time as a private chef aboard a luxury yacht. He credits this hands-on experience with his success.
“I discovered very early in my career that if you put in a little more effort than the guy next to on the line you would be successful. It’s that simple,” he says. “Pay attention to the chef, work hard and play later.”
But like most chefs, JP’s dream was to one day have his own restaurant. In 1986, he discovered a small then-defunct space called Bijou Café: he knew it was meant for him, and with the help of friends and family he made his dream a reality. Though it’s been known in the past as a fine-dining tablecloth venue, it has evolved into the casual family-style bistro that JP always secretly treasured.
Though classic dishes like the rack of lamb and roast duckling are perennial favorites, the Pommes Gratin Dauphinoise (a dish unique to the Bijou) is without a doubt the most beloved and storied dish on the menu.
“The pommes have a special place on the menu,” JP explains. “In 1980 while working on the yacht, I was sent to L’Ousteau de Beaumaniere in Provence to learn the recipe for the potato dish to satisfy my boss’s craving for them. I adapted the recipe for our restaurant and it has become a legend ever since.”
The Bijou Café: 1287 1st Street at Pineapple Avenue | Sarasota |941-366-8111 | www.bijoucafe.net
Author: Kate Wight