Monday, February 7, 2011

Paquette Takes Over Kitchen at Miel — Just Temporarily

Posted By on Mon, Feb 7, 2011 at 12:04 PM

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Miel, the excellent French-inspired bistro just off Charlotte in Sylvan Park, has welcomed a new chef to the kitchen, and it’s a very familiar face — Deb Paquette, the highly regarded (and much-loved) chef who is still popping up around town more than a year after she closed her ground-breaking restaurant Zola.

Paquette arrived Tuesday, and both she and Miel’s owner, Seema Prasad, say it’s just a temporary stint of a few weeks. Paquette and her restaurateur/fishing guide husband Ernie are still planning to head to the Caribbean to run a fishing resort, but bureaucratic wheels have delayed the big move. (In the meantime, Ernie spent the summer in the Northeast polishing his deep-sea fishing skills, and now he’s helping out at Hoyt Hill’s Village Wines in Hillsboro Village.)

“Deb’s here while we look for someone long-term,” Prasad says. As a former restaurant owner and a 25-year veteran of Nashville kitchens, Paquette is using her experience to help fine-tune things at Miel, Prasad says. “She’s great on so many levels — costs, management, teaching. She’s making this a business.”

Miel’s former chef, Freddy Brooker, has moved on, a year after he came in to fill the void left by the sudden departure of Seema’s ex, chef Jimmy Phillips.

“I feel all respect and thanks for Freddy,” Prasad says. “He really helped us out when we needed it.”

(Meanwhile, we hear Brooker is sorting offers and expects to have news soon. We also hear Phillips is working on a new restaurant project.)

Paquette says she’s not planning any real changes to the menu at Miel. “I’m just tweaking things a little,” she says. (But look for her touches on the nightly specials, like a recent soup of the day — a rich, savory but healthful carrot-beet bisque, made with farm-fresh veggies and just a hint of cream.)

Working at Miel is taking Paquette back in time a bit, and not just because it’s the classical French mode in which she trained. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the line,” she says, laughing. “I’m not sure my back can take it.”

She says she’s especially enjoying teaching the younger kitchen staff, whom she calls “the kids.”

“They see me measuring with my hands and say, ‘Is that a teaspoon?’ ” she says, laughing again. “And I say, ‘It is for me — after 30 years. You need to go over there and get that measuring spoon.’ ”

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