A native of France, Michel Saragueta started out as a commis de cuisine in the country's Basque region, then worked his way up the ladder to serve as executive chef at prestigious restaurants around
The Elmhurst resident, who has cooked for stars at the Beverly Hills Hotel and is featured in "The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Cookbook," recently landed in Glen Ellyn and opened
He came to America 25 years ago and for a time worked in Hollywood where Liza Minnelli, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor frequented his kitchen. He even prepared a birthday dinner for Frank Sinatra.
Far from the spotlight, Saragueta continues his craft at Bistro Monet, where he serves classical French cuisine with a modern flair.
How did you get into cooking?
My mother was the best chef. She didn't have the culinary education I may have had, but she was amazing. In fact, after cooking my whole life I find that at Bistro Monet, my best dishes are the ones my mother made for me as a child. I love good, country, home cooking, and that is what I serve to my clients, with a twist, of course.
Describe your cuisine. I focus on classical French country style with a modern touch. I also respect vegetarian cuisine and include it in what I do.
How much of the cooking do you do at Bistro Monet?
I do all of it myself, though I do have a helper. In Beverly Hills I had a cooking staff of 60 and so only cooked for the "special people." At this place, I do it all and there is a lot of pleasure in it. Working in a corporation setting is very stressful and a lot of pressure.
With the long hours and hard work, what keeps you in the business?
I get so much pleasure from cooking. Even the worst day is turned around when I enter the kitchen. You can't go into it for the money, you have to love making your clients happy.
When I was 35 years old or so, I said that I would retire when I was 60. Well, I am, and I could, but I'm not going to. I want to continue doing what I love and passing along all I have learned to the
younger generation. I am so proud of what the young generations of Americans have accomplished in the culinary arts. It is simply amazing.
Where have you worked throughout your career? I have cooked all over the world, including Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Honolulu, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, London and Hollywood.
Any fond memories?
I have so many! I have cooked for so many celebrities and met so many interesting people. Once, Bill Cosby stopped in for dinner and I was at home on my day off. He was so upset about missing his favorite chef that I got a call at home asking where I was.
I think the most stressful was when I was preparing Frank Sinatra's birthday party. I was making lobster and filet mignon when all of the sudden, someone runs into the kitchen saying that Mr. Sinatra
wants a Reuben sandwich. Needless to say, after a lot of running around -- that was the fastest sandwich I have ever made and he loved it.
What are your most trusted ingredients?
Being French, I cannot make anything without onions, garlic, shallots and fresh herbs such as rosemary, chives and basil. These items are what I always build a dish from. With them I can make pasta, rice, chicken, veal and so much more.
Do you have any hobbies? I love wine tasting and reading. I also keep up on the news and like being informed.