Le DeSales in Washington, D.C., is one of those extraordinary finds that comes around rarely, a relaxed place that serves elevated food with a fun twist. Take, for instance, the duck and chicken liver pâté partnered not only with traditional accompaniments (cornichons and mustard), but also pickled cauliflower that’s plucked tableside from a playfully giant jar. Another standout: a tender piece of cod that’s placed atop a colorful mélange of tri-color raw cauliflower spiked with a surprising burst of lemony goodness that prompts an instant smile.
Executive Chef Raphael Francois logged more than 16 years of experience in some of the top Michelin-starred kitchens throughout France and Belgium and served as executive sous chef alongside his mentor Chef Eric Jan at the Le Chalet d’Adrien and Château de Curzay, luxury properties in the French countryside that have been honored as Relais & Châteaux and also have earned a Michelin-star. When Francois followed that up with a position as executive chef at Hélène Darroze within the Connaught Hotel in London it also nabbed two Michelin stars. Most recently, he helmed the kitchen as executive chef at Le Cirque in Manhattan before heading to Washington to partner with Farid Nouri and Aziz Safi and launching Le DeSales in March 2017.
Francois brings his Michelin-starred chops to the heart of Washington. Located across the street from the famed Mayflower Hotel, Le DeSales draws a hearty lunchtime crowd even on a random weekday. And dinner on a weekend night? You will need to make reservations far in advance. You can thank me later.
What drew you to become a chef?
I came from a foodie family. I saw my parents and grandparents cooking great meals together. I remember my grandmother making pastries with goose eggs, jams, and homemade hot chocolate. My mother was known for her amazing meatballs and chocolate mousse. My father would also make soup filled with fresh veggies from a local farm.
How’d the idea of opening a restaurant develop?
My friends Aziz and Farid approached me awhile back about opening a restaurant together. We had been talking about this for a long time, ever sense I moved to the US. Our goal was to open a casual bistro where we could mingle the American palate with the European lifestyle.
Can you share any tips on finding great food in the city?
I am still discovering all that Washington has to offer. It’s such a beautiful city with great energy and farmers markets. I can often be found sampling cocktails at Cotton & Reed at Union Market, Stachowski Market in Georgetown, A. Litteri Italian Market in Northeast and sampling oysters and crab at Fells Point in Baltimore.
When I visited recently, I sampled your cod with forbidden rice and cauliflower. I learned from a waiter what heightened and lightened the dish, was your signature lemon gel. Can you tell me what that is?
It’s the skin of lemon that we cook in the lemon juice and mandarin then we mix it together.
When you’re not working, what’s your favorite go-to meal at home or out?
I definitely love oysters and steak tartare! I’m French, so I also enjoy cheese and charcuterie and a good bottle of red wine. I also love eating Mexican with family and friends at home.
Flash forward ten years: What are you doing?
I hope to develop another concept with my partners, Aziz and Farid, down the line.