Andre Rochat is supposed to be taking it easy these days.
In the wake of the October closing of his namesake Andre’s Bistro & Bar in the Monte Carlo, he announced he was turning over the day-to-day operation of Alize atop the Palms to a newly formed company called Stacked Hospitality, and its three managing partners — two of whom are longtime employees of the chef.
Sure, Rochat would remain a partner. His name would even grace the fledgling company’s first new venture, Andre’s Bistro & Bar on the West Side. But his would be more of an emeritus position, freeing him to spend time in his beloved second home of Thailand, take advantage of his guest chef position with Crystal Cruises and otherwise enjoy life.
“I need to stop to smell the flowers a little,” the chef explains of the break. “All my life I’ve worked 18 hours a day, 20 hours a day. Come Thanksgiving I’d work 35 or 45 hours straight, nonstop.”
Certainly nobody can dispute he deserves some time off. Yet as last-minute work continued just days before this Saturday’s planned opening of Andre’s Bistro & Bar, the chef roamed the premises with a purpose, looking like anything but a man in semiretirement.
In blue jeans and a flannel shirt rather than his embroidered white jacket, the 73-year-old was eagerly tending to whatever needed attention, looking more like a handyman than a chef. From the placement of the signature rooster sculpture rescued from the Monte Carlo to the list of menu items on the space’s glass wall, beckoning to potential customers in the restaurant’s Fort Apache Road strip mall, no detail would grace his eponymous bistro without his approval.
Once Rochat reached the kitchen areas, however, it became obvious where his passions still lie: food and family. Walking through a side room expected to cater primarily to parties, he pointed to a counter that will serve as an adjunct kitchen, with chefs shucking four varieties of live oysters and preparing seafood towers, pastries, salads and other pantry items in front of curious customers. Behind it will hang a mural painted by his niece who passed away last March. On another wall, a large roll of butcher’s papers will be used to advertise daily specials.
Entering the small main kitchen, he promised, “We’ll do everything ourselves. All the sausage is house-made. All the desserts. The hamburgers. Everything is house-made.”
And it’s that commitment, more than a menu that supplements French classics steak frittes, quiche and souffles with American standards like milkshakes and fries, that Rochat feels will best convey the spirit of his native France, where he grew up working in his father’s butcher shop.
“In every little bistro in every little town, they still have the ham hanging from the ceiling, and the sausages,” he says of his homeland. “What makes a French bistro is the freshness of the food. You go to the market and you smell the fruit, smell the vegetables. You go to a market here, you smell antibiotics, you smell cleaners, or you don’t smell anything. That’s why we try to buy the best and then make everything ourselves.”
For Rochat, the restaurant also means a return to the suburbs, and to more affordable dining. He began his local career in 1973 with his Savoy Bakery on West Sahara Road. After selling that, he opened his first local restaurant, Andre’s Downtown, in 1980. At the time, he offered two menus: one for $15.75 and another for $18.75. Over the years, customers of those early ventures have remained loyal, even as his restaurant grew more formal and his price tags got higher. But the chef is hoping this new casual endeavor will allow longtime friends and fans to enjoy his cuisine more frequently, perhaps even making it a regular part of their social calendar.
“In Europe … eating is part of life, it’s how we socialize,” he explains of the atmosphere he’s trying to create. “When you go to a restaurant with friends, you don’t go eat and run. You go and eat and drink and talk. You stay there for two or three hours. And then you have an after-dinner drink. That’s part of our life. And that’s what we’re missing here (in Las Vegas). People are always in too much of a hurry. We want people to come in after work and relax. You want to sit two hours, sit two hours. We’re not going to kick you out.”
For those who choose to sit around and drink, the small beverage program will concentrate on being well-rounded and affordable. An international beer selection will include about two dozen varieties, with two on tap. And the wine list will concentrate on affordable options, with about 15 available by the glass or carafe.
If this simple approach seems like a step back from the glitz and glamour of the Strip, the chef begs to differ. To him, the job is the same, no matter the environment or price range.
“Cooking hasn’t changed very much since I was an apprentice in Lyon,” he insists. “It’s all about taste. And that’s what bistro food is about.
“Presentation is nice. But too many times, especially with young chefs today, it’s all about presentation and putting a lot of things on your plate. But our food is all about freshness and taste, and giving people their money’s worth.”