She does the planning, the hiring, the managing, the organizing, the marketing—whatever it takes—to run the family business, which includes Vincent on Camelback, Vincent Market Bistro, a Saturday seasonal French market and a corporate catering offshoot, Vincent Van Go. Everything, that is, but the cooking. Leevon Guerithault talks about raising kids around a restaurant, mentoring teens and buying local.
How did you and your husband, nationally acclaimed chef Vincent Guerithault, manage small children at a high-end French restaurant?
We’re here a lot, so they needed to be here a lot, so they never really had set nap schedules. We had a baby gate in the office that is upstairs, where Daniel would toddle around. When he was born, our hostess at the time sometimes would come up and get him. She would seat guests, and he’d be nestled to her shoulder, sleeping.
Were your boys exposed to a wider variety of foods earlier than most kids?
We always tried to give them a variety of flavors when they were little. We made their baby food—it wasn’t that we were against jarred food, but it was not that hard to purée something. They certainly had their share of McDonald’s and Peter Piper Pizza. But we also wanted to teach them what other flavors are out there and give them a well-rounded view of food.
People might imagine that what comes out of the Guerithault’s home kitchen is similar to what comes out of Vincent’s or The Bistro. True?
No, it’s pretty simple. We don’t cook that often at home; in fact, I seldom cook. My kids give me a hard time about it. I say, well, you guys can all cook….
So the men cook. Sounds like a dream.
Yes. Family night is Sunday; the restaurant is closed. Cheese is a big deal in the French culture. We always have cheese with our meal. And it’s usually a piece of grilled fish, or a little beef and some salad. They get in the kitchen with Vincent, and I sit with my cheese and wine, and watch them cook. It’s great. I love it.
Talk about the “buy local” food movement. It is simply a trend? Or, over the long term, is it good for business?
We’re a small business so we understand and appreciate what it is like for the small farmer, the small producer. There is so much competition, especially with chains moving in. You kind of have to work together and support each other.
So you try to buy local for the restaurant, as well as bring in area vendors for the seasonal Saturday market?
Local farmers, local producers, local honey. Mustards that are made locally. It’s great to say you’re serving an heirloom tomato salad and the tomatoes were picked in Willcox a few days before, or when the Schnepf Farm peaches are in season, how fabulous to say those were picked yesterday! Or the lettuce that is on your plate that was delivered this morning was in a field, two days ago.
Daniel, Nicolas and Christian make to-order tacos, panini and crepes at the market. Plus, you have a tradition of hiring high school students to work there on Saturdays throughout the school year. For most, it is a first job.
What I hope it gives them is a good life lesson. Dealing with the public is something that you cannot teach people. Ninety-nine percent of the people who come through are just great and friendly and happy to be there. But every now and then, you get someone who is a little cranky and who’s not satisfied.
What have you learned from the teens you hire?
They’ve taught me how to text. They’ve brought me to the current century. They don’t check emails anymore, they don’t answer their phones anymore, but they will respond to a text, almost instantly.
What’s the toughest thing about being married to a French chef?
What has been the best thing? Probably the toughest is the schedule. When we’re busy there are days that we literally barely see each other. The best thing is the people. From well-known chefs to celebrities, the locals—amazing people. I still pinch myself sometimes when I think about the opportunities we’ve had and the people we’ve had the chance to meet.
Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint produces audio and video stories for Raising Arizona Kids and through her own company, Small Change Productions. This interview was first published in the November 2012 print magazine.