After just 1 1/2 years as executive chef of L'Orangerie, Gilles Epie is moving on--and forward. The chef, who was lured from Paris to California by L'Orangerie founders Gerard and Virginie Ferry, resigned, effective this week.
The French-born chef will rejoin colleague Albert Charbonneau, who was L'Orangerie's general manager and maitre 'd for seven years, to reopen the former Bistro in Beverly Hills on Oct. 1. The new name? The Bistro of Beverly Hills.
Epie, who had been awarded a Michelin star made for his Paris restaurant Le Miravile, introduced a vibrant, Provencal-inspired style of cooking to L'Orangerie's once staid menu. Food & Wine Magazine had just named him one of "America's 10 Best New Chefs"--the only chef in Los Angeles to be so honored.
Sous chef Didier Labbe will be joining Epie on Aug. 13. The new executive chef is Jean-Marie Konnert, who held a similar position at the now-defunct Les Arts in Pasadena. Joining him as manager is Christian Vanneque, formerly of the Givenchy Spa in Palm Springs, and chef Patrick Glennon, who honed skills in France at Maxim's restaurant in Nice and Hotel Monceau in Paris after graduation from the New England Culinary Institute.
Different Strokes: At Picasso, a recently opened cafe in Santa Monica, art history is a matter of taste. Partners Meir Mizrahi and Sylvie Amati have taken the Catalan painter as their inspiration for the decor and menu. In only six weeks, designers April Gillette and Judith Hoffman covered the cafe's walls with wraparound murals of favorite Picasso works in time for the opening. Jolts of turquoise and vermilion run through the color scheme the way garlic, olive oil, tomatoes and peppers show up in the cafe's Mediterranean menu.
Amati, who is a former co-owner of La Finestra in Tarzana, has been working with chef Sal Calderone to fine-tune the cafe's mix of Italian, French and Spanish dishes.
The restaurant is hard to miss. A 25-square-foot hand-painted mural of Picasso's "The Dream" catches the eye at Fama's former site.
* Picasso, 1416 4th St., Santa Monica, (310) 656-7017.
Off the Wall: Serge Burckel, an Alsace-born chef who has just arrived in West Hollywood after a three-year stint in Hong Kong, is likely to pull a few culinary punches at his new post at the Cristal Restaurant in the Hotel Sofitel.
If the restaurant's name conjures up the sound of corks popping, you've been drinking very well. The Champagne house of Louis Roederer will underwrite some of the restaurant's events. Slated to open in Ma Maison's old space, Cristal is a partnership headed by restaurateur-designer Jean Pierre Deleurme. The concept is fine French cooking with an Asian flair.
Burckel, who was executive chef of the the Belvedere restaurant in the Grand Stanford Harbour View hotel, was viewed as a renegade by some of Hong Kong's starchy Swiss-trained hotel executives, mostly because he insisted on wearing the uniforms he designed, not the hotel's standard issue. Toques never got anywhere near his curly mop. He also picked up a reputation for spontaneity there by encouraging diners to voice their whims--favorite foods, wines, budget--and then creating a surprise menu.
Cristal opens in early August.
* Cristal Restaurant, Hotel Sofitel, 8555 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 278-5444.
Stand By: Victor Drai, who owns the super-trendy Drai's in West Hollywood, hopes to double that success (or at least find space for the overflow) with Drai Cafe, which he plans to open in September on Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills. When it comes to specifics, Drai is a man of few words. The cafe will have about 130 seats and the chef will be--naturellement--the pony-tailed Claude Segal, who runs the kitchen at Drai's. As far as price range and menu, Drai shrugs. "I don't know what I am doing right now. It is too early to tell." . . . Bob Spivak, president of Grill Concepts, which owns the tony Grill in Beverly Hills and a slew of Daily Grills across the Southland, has made a bid to buy the beleaguered Hamburger Hamlet fiefdom, now in Chapter 11. The deal, in excess of $10 million, would cover the existing 19 hamburger restaurants (14 of which are in Southern California). In 1988 Hamlet founders Marilyn and Harry Lewis sold the restaurants (then a total of 24) to a public company for $33 million.
Such a Deal: Les Freres Taix in Echo Park (1911 Sunset Blvd.,  484-1265) celebrates its 69th anniversary with a roast chicken dinner special. Offered Monday through Friday all during August, the menu--sourdough bread, soup, salad, entree and dessert--goes for $5.95. . . . Not to be outdone is Santa Monica's homey Polish restaurant Warszawa (1414 Lincoln Blvd.,  393-8831). Their three-course meal, available Mondays through Thursdays, includes soup or salad, choice of 14 entrees, dessert and coffee at $14.50 per person.