Jody Williams: On Buvette, a ‘Traditional Untraditional’ Gastrothèque

July 9, 2015 1:42 pm Last Updated: September 4, 2015 5:09 am

Buvette is the wildly popular gastrothèque in the West Village, where chef-owner Jody Williams has poured her ethos, a place where the pleasure of food and drink are at the center, period.

All at once it’s a place for a cup of tea and a madeleine (or two), for a meeting, for an apéritif, for a party, for dinner, and definitely, as its name says, a place to nurse a glass of wine. “There are no rules,” Williams said. That is, order just side dishes if you fancy, with your glass of wine. That in France would get you a long side glance.

And yet, that informal, warm approach is engaging. “French people come in here and say, ‘It’s great, we don’t have this.'”

But in fact, they do. Williams opened a Buvette in the Paris neighborhood of Pigalle in 2013.

This little spot, opened by a native born Californian, swept the Best Croque Monsieur award from Le Fooding, a well-known French food guide.

“We were embarrassed. We had to show up at the awards ceremony with Gregory Marchand, everybody was there,” Williams said. “We were like—wallflowers! We were so new.”

“The croque from Jody is really crazy!” said Victoire Louapre, Le Fooding’s media manager, with no lack of certainty. “Ex aequo with the one from Café Trama in the 6th arrondissement.”

Getting Buvette in Paris on its feet was not an easy task. Williams started by “being pretty much shut out” when it came to finding suppliers.

“It’s very different from New York. Here I know what I want. Send me this many, this day, boom, COD, you’re done, boom. The Parisians are much more … ‘Well I only sell wine to my friends.'”

Williams also views each Buvette as a sort of mini-campus, where staff might go on exchange. During the summer, most of the Paris staff is in New York, for example. The pace is noticeably different.

“In Paris it’s quaint. When I’m in Paris, [I say to the staff] you guys have to learn to move! You got to work like you’re making 20 cocktails—not two! One day you will make 20 cocktails. And over here in New York, I’m grabbing on: ‘Stop running! Slow donw, breathe, slow, slow.’ It’s two different worlds, two different systems. That is so fascinating to me.”

“We try to really teach a different kind of service in Paris that we think is needed. You know like, attention—a basic skill,” she laughed. “I’m joking. But you go and there’s no contact. Do they know you’re here? They take the order and you never see them. And it’s good. There’s a balance. There’s wonderful things there. It’s not this hovering, controlling, selling.”

She’s looking for real, warm service.

“Intention counts for a lot,” she said. “Intention is particularly important when you’re serving food and when you’re going to eat something. You’re bringing energy to what you do.”

“When I’m in a kitchen with 10, 15 cooks and dinner service begins boom, boom, boom, the stress is building the tickets are coming up. ‘Fire, go, four medium rare, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, no, 4 minutes. Take it back, no do it again.’ When all this is going on, I can see people starting to struggle. And then it’s not with love, it’s not with nurturing.

“You can’t have gorgeous product—beautiful sardines on the table or scallops—and turn them over and be cooking in a bad mood or with a lack of respect.

“I’ll be making dinner for 12 people here and you know I’m making the perfect roast chicken for them in my mind an I got my beautiful radishes and maybe my food is less than perfect but my intention to give them this moment they can remember.”