Cooking has long been an important part of Chef Richard Jimenez's life. The son of Paul and Mary Jean Wegner, proprietors of popular Boise bistro Cucina di Paolo, Jimenez felt a deep connection with food and, more importantly, preparing it, from a young age—he was 15 when he got his first cooking job. Locally, he worked at restaurants like Angell's, Bardenay and Cottonwood Grille to name a few, and he even trained under Chef Scott Leibfried of Hell's Kitchen fame while living in Southern California.
Now, at age 37, Jimenez is the executive chef of Le Coq d'Or, located in Chateau des Fleurs on the grounds of the world-renowned Camille Beckman facility in Eagle. He has been there less than a year, but with unfettered access to the nearly 40-acre on-site garden/orchard/vineyard, and the support and encouragement of Camille Beckman founder Susan Roghani, his enthusiasm and passion for fine dining, innovating with high-end ingredients and bringing together Asian, French and American cuisines is flourishing.
Speaking of love, Jimenez has been busy planning what promises to be an exquisite menu for the Le Coq d'Or Valentine's Day Dinner— but he took some time to chat about tenacity, timing and trusting his instincts.
Tell me about how your professional cooking career.
I got a job at Murphy's working for Chef Mitchell Maricich [co-owner of former Boise restaurants Milky Way and Tapas Estrella]. He saw how hard I worked as a busser and asked if I wanted to work the pantry. It had a little bit better hours and money, so I said yes ... but kept harassing him to let me cook. I came in one day and said, "Are you going to let me cook?" He said, "No." I said, "C'mon." He said, "No! Get outta here." But I hung around for a few hours, and finally he said, "What do you want?" I said, "To cook." So he showed me how to cook a steak by touch—using my fingers to test the doneness. We had a really busy night, and he was coaching me while he was cooking. I only fucked up two steaks out of like 50, and he said I could start cooking full-time on the weekends. I was like, "Oh, no. I'm a kid and I want to hang out with other kids on the weekend." He said, "Do you want the job or not?" I took it, and I loved it. I was just a kid, and I was running the broiler. I held my own with a bunch of grown men. It was one of the most rewarding feelings ever.
How long have you been at Le Coq d'Or?
About 10 months.
Where were you before that, and for how long?
Red Feather. Two years.
Did someone from Le Coq d'Or come into Red Feather? Were you poached?
Here's the thing: I heard [the previous chef] quit, and fine dining is my style of food. I went out to talk to them, but [Roghani] was really skeptical about who she was going to bring on next. She had a sous chef, so she decided to kind of let him do his thing, but I think he didn't really fit the vision for a fine dining crowd. I was actually getting ready to head to Seattle to be a culinary director for about four restaurants. I was packing just for the weekend to go up there and check things out when I got a phone call from [Roghani]. At the time, I hadn't talked to her in a year. She said, "I came into the restaurant looking for you, but I didn't want to poach you." It worked out because I was quitting anyway. So I talked to her, and I saw the facility. We talked for a couple of hours. Our conversation was literally about seeds. About plants. About all the veggies.
The Le Coq/Chateau garden is stunning. What are you most excited about growing?
We didn't yield quite as much as we would have liked this year, but we're really on deck with the things I like. We'll have thumbelina carrots, sunchokes [Jerusalem artichokes]—all the ingredients I'm really proud to use are coming out of the garden this year. We've been trying to plant in small batches so I have continuous vegetables instead of one big push of one vegetable at a time. For a chef, that's pretty kick-ass. I'm really happy.
What's on the menu at Le Coq for Valentine's Day?
Well, I have a flavor profile in there that I love: passion fruit and chiles. I know it makes a beautiful dressing, so I'm going to use it on a shrimp salad. I haven't figured out the lettuce I'm going to use yet. I'll probably have some kind of chicory and a neutral lettuce, like a Miner's lettuce. The dish I'm going to do, I'm doing it for 350-400 people, and I wanted something sumptuous. For me, there's not much better than a properly cooked short rib. We're using Snake River Farms Kobe, which has a huge amount of marbling, and the collagen in it is delectable. I'm going to be serving it on top of my polenta, which has a base recipe that's unique to me. I'll be using smoked cipollini [small Italian onion], and I'll fold it into the polenta to make polenta cakes. I'll serve the short rib on the polenta with some creme fraiche and a little watercress to clean it up, because it's a heavy dish. I have an unorthodox approach to flavor profiles. Sometimes it doesn't make sense—until you eat it. [Jimenez hasn't yet decided on dessert.]