Chef: Close the kitchen while on top

NEWPORT BEACH — Chef Pascal Olhats is closing the doors to Tradition by Pascal on Feb. 15 after a nearly 25-year run, but the restaurateur is keeping a close hold on his apron.

“It’s not easy,” he said of closing the popular, upscale French cuisine establishment on North Bristol Street. “I don’t close for failure, I close for a decision I want to make while I’m on top. It’s a positive thing for me — I see it as an achievement.”

Other restaurants Olhats operates, including Pascal Épicerie and Café Jardin, as well as those for which he consults, including French 75, Brasserie Pascal and Savannah Chop House, will remain open.

Olhats will also bring traditional French dishes, signature to Tradition by Pascal, to Pascal Épicerie and Café Jardin, as well as create new dishes, macarons and add quality wines and cheeses.

“I don’t want any of my patrons to feel abandoned,” he said. “They’ve been good to me, and Orange County has been good to me for 25 years.”

And, the tenant moving into the restaurant’s long-held space has his approval. The restaurant, Émé, is named after the incoming chef, Christophe Émé, of Los Angeles-based Ortolan.

“I like the concept,” Olhats said. “It’s a bit more casual, more upbeat with a wine bar.”

Olhats said

Émé, a Frenchman like himself, is a respected peer and close friend of his.

Although hard for Olhats, closing his first restaurant venture will free him up to do other projects. He’ll soon trade a whisk for a paintbrush and an ink pen.

Both of the new utensils are not entirely foreign to the Normandy-born chef. Olhats found inspiration in writing, painting and cooking from his earliest influence: his mother.

Therese Olhats, 85, is still nimble in the kitchen and can be seen from time to time bustling in front of her son’s stove — both at home and in one of his restaurants.

It was her lessons and encouragement as a young boy that gave birth to his dream of owning a restaurant.

“She would tell me, ‘One day, when you have your own restaurant, make sure there is a corner in the kitchen for me,’” Olhats said with a laugh.

He also picked up oil painting after watching his mother take classes for 20 years. However, he said those paintings remain modestly tucked away in his Tustin home.

What won’t be kept from the culinary world — not for too long, at least — is a cookbook by Olhats illustrating his three-decade journey from his mother’s Normandy kitchen to an acclaimed chef with region-specific recipes to that period of his life.

There’s no set deadline for the book yet. With the newfound free time on his hands, Olhats said that he looks forward to taking his time to explore the recipes to get the book just right.

However, there’s a busy month ahead before Tradition by Pascal closes, Olhats said.

The restaurant will showcase the “Best of Pascal’s” through Feb. 13 with hor d’oeuvres, starter plates and entrées. Menu items will include sautéed foie gras, scampi magali, Dijon-crusted rack of lamb and thyme-crusted sea bass.

A special “Dinner in Normandy,” a celebration of Therese Olhats’ cooking, will be Feb. 2 with plates such as poached oyster with leek beurre blanc, roasted Guinea hen with apple and cider, and Therese Olhats’ own apple tart recipe.

The restaurant will close after Valentine’s Day and a chef d’oeuvre four-course, prix-fixe menu featuring homemade foie gras torchon, duck confit, seared pepper and fennel-crusted ahi and other options.

“Being a French restaurant, I wanted to close with a touch of love,” Olhats said.

Twitter: @speters01