Primo Without Prima Donna
Mar 18, 2016 11:45AM
By Ryan Borchers
Cedric Fichepain is the head chef at Le Voltaire, a French restaurant he has owned and operated since 2001. The upscale West Omaha hotspot is routinely one of the best-reviewed restaurants in the metro area and has won regional awards from Wine Spectator magazine 14 years in a row. Fichepain is even an honorary French consul for Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota.
So, a resume recap: Head chef. Head chef at a French restaurant he owns. Head chef at a French restaurant with a list of awards that takes as long to read as a proper French meal takes to eat.
That typically is a recipe for a stomach-churning, seven-course ego.
What stands out about him, though, is how quick he is to give credit to others.
“I’ve been very lucky, I have always had great staff,” he says. “For me, everything is based on the staff. I’ve been having people with me for more than 10 years.
“If you have good food and good service, you can make it. If you don’t have too much of a big ego, you can definitely make it.”
Cooking has been part of Fichepain’s life ever since childhood. Often, while growing up in France, he would cook at friends’ parties. At age 15, he cooked a New Year’s Eve dinner where he developed the menu and prepared a 5-course meal for 12 people.
Fichepain credits his mother and his grandmothers as influences, specifically in how they cooked “farm-to-table.”
“At the time, when they were cooking, they were using the perfect ingredients,” he says. “That’s what I’ve been raised on.”
Fichepain first came to the United States to learn English at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he met his wife, Desarae (Desarae is a full partner with him on all of his businesses). They moved back to France and lived there for two years, but then moved back to Omaha in 1997 to be closer to Desarae’s father, who was ill.
Fichepain started as the executive chef in 1998 at Farucci’s Bistro, which used to be at 129th and Maple streets where Salt 88 is now. After two years of that, he says, “My wife convinced me to go and wait tables for six months.
“I knew I was going to open my own restaurant, but I wanted to have as good an experience in the front of the house.”
Fichepain confesses that he didn’t really enjoy the experience, but it taught him to appreciate a server’s job. “I think if you want to open a business and you want to manage a business, you really need to know all the facets of the business.”
The goal at Le Voltaire is to sell simple food, dishes like coq au vin and beef burgundy that are comfort foods in France. Staying true to that goal and not skimming on the product has been key to Fichepain’s success.
“Every night, 75 percent to 80 percent of our customers are return customers, which is huge,” he says. “That’s what it’s all about, to bring back people.”
In 2013, he opened Le Petit Paris, a French bakery next door to Le Voltaire. Last year, he opened another Le Petit Paris location in Papillion. Operating three businesses at once can be difficult, and, as usual, finding the right staff is key. Open communication and delegating responsibilities, Fichepain says, makes a company strong.
“My door is never shut,” he says. My staff “can always come and see me, and I think that’s what helped keep great people. It’s because we have great communication.”