Ratcheting up the glamour of the downtown restaurant Ici Urban Bistro, new chef, Franck Loquet, settles in with a new menu that melds French flavors with American ingredients. Imagine starting your meal with poached farm eggs served with mushrooms and asparagus and flavor-boosted with truffle dressing.

A native of Paris, Loquet admits his mother was not such a good cook, but both sets of grandparents had stellar credentials. He says he spent every Wednesday lunch with his grandfathers from Bordeaux, who taught the youngster how to cook French fries to be really delicious. "That really matters to me," he said, "because that was a turning point."

But he also credits his dad's parents for some culinary influence. "My [other] grandparents were from Normandy and my grandmother had a huge garden," he says. "So we ate tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, all sorts of fruits. Plus she grew lots of herbs ... so I was [always] picking vegetables. She was a great cook."

If you go
Ici Urban Bistro
Where: 806 15th St., NW
Info: 202-730-8700
Hours: Breakfast, Mon.-Fri., 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Sat.-Sun. 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.; Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 to 4 p.m.; Dinner nightly, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

This certainly explains why becoming a chef beckoned to Loquet when he was just a youngster. "When I was 6 or 7," he explained, "I wanted to be a pastry chef because I was exposed to baking such things as cookies and cakes. I always liked it." Today, he admits, that he no longer bakes or has the patience for it.

Loquet spent years earning degrees, learning the kitchen basics, and finding that he really, really loved the career. "Friends thought I was crazy," he said. "But I went for it." After graduation, he took a job outside Paris at a high-volume restaurant that was very busy in the summertime. "Coming out of school, you don't know much," he said. "But this restaurant had high standards. I worked on the appetizer station. I just had a 2-month contract."

Then Loquet says, he jumped on every job that was offered in Paris, and ended up changing jobs every few months. "I was very impatient at that time," he said, adding that after the first year, he worked in a chateau in the south of France, and that traveled abroad to work in England, Scotland, Canada and the United States.

Now well established in Washington, Loquet can look over his years in the kitchen and point to various influences that have shaped his style: "My techniques are French," he said, "but adopt them to my environment. I keep my cooking simple. And my influences are Mediterranean, French, Italian, Spanish" and now, American.

For Loquet, there's another major cooking lesson learned: "You have to have some kind of passion," he said. "Cooking is very demanding. It is a big sacrifice, and you have to learn to manage your professional life with your private life."


What is your comfort food?

Pasta or any cheese.

What is your favorite ingredient?

Olive oil. I love vinegar because I love acidity. And peppers, spices.

Which is your favorite restaurant?

I don't eat out much, but I live in Old Town, so I have eaten at BRABO, Majestic Cafe. I have been to Jose Andres' Oyamel, but I want to try Blue Duck Tavern, and, of course, I will try Alain Ducasse's Adour, Bourbon Steak.

What's in your fridge?

Yogurt, sorbets, bacon, eggs, vegetables, fruits, all kinds of mustard and condiments, hot sauce, cheese for sure, and lots of drinks such as iced tea and wine.

Which is your signature dish?

I really don't know. Probably the lemon tart, which I learned in first internship in the kitchen. I was in England and came back with the recipe. Now I have made it my own. I feel proud of it when I serve it up.


Roasted Duck Breast, Orange-Szechuan Pepper Salt,

With Ginger Ratatouille

Serves 4

Orange-Szechuan Pepper Salt

Peel 2 oranges. Blanch the skin, starting with cold water up to the boil. Drain and refresh. Do the same process two more times. Put in the oven (180F) until crispy dry.

Blend with 1/2 cup Szechuan peppercorn, until coarse. Mix with one cup of fleur de sel.

Ginger Ratatouille

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely minced ginger

2 red bell peppers peeled, cut into 1/4-inch julienne

2 yellow bell peppers peeled, cut into 1/4-inch julienne

1 eggplant half peeled, 1/2-inch dice

1 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 red onion, julienned

3 garlic cloves finely sliced

1 cup tomato juice

Salt to taste

Pepper, preferably espelette, to taste

4 whole duck breasts, cut in half, preferably Muscovi

Sweat in 2 tablespoons olive oil over low heat the at low heat onion, peppers, onion, and garlic until soft then add ginger. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil and saute the zucchini; add to the pepper stew. Repeat with eggplant. When all vegetables are combined, add the tomato juice. Keep cooking over low heat until reduced.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the breasts skin side down in a large cold skillet. Cook over medium heat to render the fat and to make the skin crispy and golden. Flip the duck breasts over and sear the other sides. Place the breasts in a baking dish, and roast in the oven until medium-rare to medium.

To serve, let the breasts sit for 5 minutes before slicing. Season them with the Orange-Szechuan Pepper Salt and serve with the ratatouille.