A leaner, meaner French cuisine

Tuckered out, one of the hardest working restauranteur couples have packed it in. La Gourmandise Creperie & World Cuisine’s…

Tuckered out, one of the hardest working restauranteur couples have packed it in.

La Gourmandise Creperie & World Cuisine’s French-Canadian owners Francois and Jacynthe Chretien have abandoned their business.

But don’t worry, you can still get authentic filet Gourmandise.

Longtime fans Karen Johnson and Ray Kitz, a High Country Inn caterer and Whitehorse fireman respectively, have taken over the operation, which is as close to French fine dining as you’re going to get North of 60.

Tired out after working day and night for two and a half years to keep it that way, the Chretiens passed the baton to Kitz and Johnson a few weeks ago.

The two new owners plan to whip up something even grander.

Since taking over June 1st, they have doubled the staff and radically altered and expanded the menu.

“We have added tons of amazing new dishes you can’t get anywhere else in Whitehorse,” said Johnson, sitting across from the new head chef Antonio Spartinelli, in the large

dining room.

While the Parisian decor and a few items on the menu remain, there are many things — from the food selection to the way it is cooked and acquired — that have changed.

The style of cooking will remain classic French and Italian, but Spartinelli, a Nova Scotian, is bringing a whole new mentality to the types of foods they will be using.

He’s going “modern classic.”

The classic is referring to the traditional French and Italian techniques that Gourmandise customers are used to.

And the modern means healthy.

“There’s more reductions, more vinaigrettes, not so much cream and butter, because, let’s be honest, people are fattening up every day so let’s try to give them a fighting chance,” he said.

And the new menu will stick to a strict organic regimen.

“Organic buckwheat, organic lettuces, organic chicken, organic tomato sauce, organic green onions — it just keeps going on and on for whatever we can find and get,” said Spartinelli.

“If it’s better, we’re going to use it.”

“We even have organic wines,” said Johnson.

The other part of the healthy equation is to get local food on the menu.

“Every piece of meat that you buy that’s bison- or buffalo-related usually comes from Alberta or Montana, it’s not even from the Yukon whatsoever,” he said.

“If you get it as close to home as possible you’re not burning all those nutrients on the transportation.”

Spartinelli is focusing on local game.

Currently on the menu is muskox, foie gras and rabbit.

“And right now we’re working on a line for some duck,” he said.

During hunting season, he plans to add things such as caribou, elk and moose to the menu.

Everything will be made from scratch in-house as well.

And that requires more kitchen staff.

“It seriously takes manpower to try and mix the crab cakes by hand every time and make the handmade gnocchi every night,” said Spartinelli.

They share employees with the Alpine Bakery, where Spartinelli continues to work as a consultant and chocolateer.

“We trade employees a lot — we have an interstellar system I guess you could say,” he said.

The staff swapping includes Spartinelli’s right hand man, Jim Sewchuk.

“He’s my unofficial sous chef,” said Spartinelli.

Alpine owner Suat Tuzlak helps out around the restaurant as well.

“He’s just a guy in the back shadows, he’s not really on the payroll or anything,” said Spartinelli.

Staffers were introduced to the menu last week.

“We wanted our staff to experience everything,” said Johnson.

“It was a mind-blower,” added Spartinelli, talking up his own rabbit dish.

“Rabbit, yeah, I was going to say the rabbit — it’s amazing.”

It features rabbit leg marinated with rhubarb and papaya, braised in honey brown ale and served with sweet potato gnocchi and spinach.

“The presentation is beautiful,” said Johnson.

Despite all the changes, the new owner plans on keeping much of the restaurant the same.

According to Jacynthe Chretien, this is why they chose Johnson and Kitz as their successors.

 “aThe will continue what we started,” she said.

“It’s their business now, but they kept the same decor, the same everything, so the people who got used to it, it’s still going to be there.

“But they’re adding their own personal touch. It’s their baby now.”

Francois Chretien will still assist on a regular basis to help them get the business off the ground.

“They’ve continued to help us — they’ve been fantastic,” said Johnson. “We couldn’t ask for a better pair of people to buy it from. They put so much heart and soul into it.

“(Kitz) introduced me to this place last summer and I fell in love with it.

“This was our favorite restaurant — we liked it so much that we bought the company.”

But it’s going to be a lot of work.

 “There was a reason we decided to get out of it, it is so much work,” said Jacynthe. “People can not even imagine how much work it is, and you end up having no life whatsoever.

“Seven days a week, two years with no break at all.

“This weekend, we’re going fishing — don’t look for us in town, we’re not there.”

But Jacynthe is confident the new team will make it work.

“They’re going to do good. It’s a bit easier for them because the place is started already.

“If they work hard like we did, they will get it going.”