Saint Jacques: Mastering the Heart of French Cuisine
By Jenni Hart
Photos by Davies Photography
French fare is known for its rich, savory, wine- and cream-based sauces; rustic cuts of beef, rabbit and duck; and regional wines perfectly suited to the dish. Serge Falcoz-Vigne, chef at Raleigh’s Saint Jacques French Cuisine, believes the true essence of French cooking isn’t found in its ingredients or technique. “The most important quality in a chef is to be generous,” he says. “You want to share the good thing you made with others; you want them to be happy.”
Falcoz-Vigne first indulged his people-pleasing sensibility as a boy growing up in Grenoble, France. Inspired by two grandmothers whose kitchens nourished generations, he learned what he could from them before serving two years as a cook’s apprentice beginning at age 16. He eventually found his way to Paris, where he spent 13 years running his own restaurant, Au Passe Retrouve, before relocating to North Carolina in 2007 with his wife – a Raleigh native – and their young son.
Falcoz-Vigne worked in a few of the Triangle’s best-known restaurants before taking the helm at Saint Jacques in spring 2016. The authentic French fine dining restaurant has been a steady presence on the Raleigh food scene since opening in North Raleigh in 2004, yet in spite of the restaurant’s history and reputation, Falcoz-Vigne doesn’t rest on 5-star reviews. “Of course I enjoy hearing that a customer had a wonderful experience, but that was yesterday,” he says. “I want to make this day’s customers happy.”
Francophiles appreciate Saint Jacques’ fidelity to the traditional French offerings, including escargots, braised duck with orange sauce, and filet mignon with foie gras and black truffle sauce. Falcoz-Vigne is especially committed to local sources for as many ingredients as possible, ensuring the freshest flavors – including rabbit and duck from Blue Whistler Farm near Durham, and goat and cow cheeses from Prodigal Farm in Rougemont. Even the truffles are grown in North Carolina soil by a producer in Southern Pines.
Falcoz-Vigne has arranged for his restaurant staff to meet with farmers, believing the foundation of trust and connection is sure to result in a better experience for his customers. And, although Saint Jacques servers are expertly trained and knowledgeable about the menu, the chef is known for engaging with customers, sharing interesting tidbits about ingredients or preparation, or entertaining them with memories of his early life in France. “Some customers enjoy a conversation with the chef; others want quiet time by themselves,” he says. “I only want them to be happy.”
The hospitality aspect of being a chef developed over time, he says, noting that his early years were focused on kitchen activity. “I still love being in the kitchen,” he says. “I like making the soup, the terrine, the foie gras.” Venturing out to visit tables, however, reminds him that the connection between food and love runs deep. “When you are new in the kitchen and all of your time is spent making the food, you have to remember that you aren’t working for the boss – you’re working for the customer.”
Honesty, integrity and a philosophical approach to food’s ability to inspire lifelong memories and happy associations are as important to Falcoz-Vigne as his mastery of the culinary art. When cooking for his own family, he relies on simple recipes with the same local ingredients used in his restaurant. One favorite is grilled sausages, sautéed potatoes with garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, and a salad. For this Sunday Supper feature, Falcoz-Vigne chose crepes, a traditional French creation. With a short list of ingredients, crepes are easy to prepare, offer an endless choice of fillings, and seem the perfect antidote to the Sunday evening slump. “No one likes to see the end of family time together,” he says. “But everyone can be happy with the filling they like the most.” Favorites for him, his wife and 11-year-old son, Jack, include ham, Gruyere, coarse-ground mustard, marmalade, chocolate and Nutella. Even ice cream and whipped cream get the thumbs up from the chef. “Whatever you like,” he says. “But only real whipped cream!”
2 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups half & half
2 cups water
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder.
Make a well in the center of flour mixture, add eggs and just a little bit of the half and half.
Whisk. When batter starts to come together, add more half and half, whisk. Alternate small additions of half and half, whisking between each addition. Whisk well to eliminate clumps (batter will be thick).
Add water, one cup at a time, whisking in between.
Let the batter rest for 30 minutes. Take the flattest nonstick pan you have, medium heat, spray some oil all around and delicately pour 2 oz. (about ¼ cup) of batter in the pan, using your wrist to move the batter around and create one thin layer. Cook until it starts to curl around the edges and the crepe takes color. Use a spatula to turn it, or take your chance and flip it like a professional. (The world record for crepe flipping is 28.5 feet high - feel free to try to beat it!)
Stack crepes on a plate, place at the center of the table. Surround the plate with all kinds of pleasurable treats and just do the crepe you want, the flavor you like and the quantity of topping you dream of. Everyone makes their own crepe, all together sharing the love around the table.
Whole grain mustard
Strawberry or blueberry jam
If you ever feel sad on Sunday night, thinking of Monday, just have a crepe party. The whole family will love it, and more importantly, they will love Sunday night now!
Unassuming strip-mall location serving elevated, classic French fare suitable for special occasions.
Located at 6112 Falls of Neuse Rd, Raleigh, NC 27609.