The jovial Frenchman behind the much-missed La Fourchette recently opened Goulette, an authentic, laid-back bistro for locals
CM: Dites-nous, where in France are you from?
PG: I grew up in a little city in Brittany, which is a Celtic region on the western coast. Most American tourists know of Paris and Normandy, but Brittany is a popular tourist destination, too, especially for French people. There’s a fortress on the water, and it’s very historical.
CM: Have you found any ties between Brittany and Charleston?
PG: For me, Charleston is the most European city in America. The way locals live and relax, it’s slower-paced than other U.S. cities; heritage and architecture are very special here, and the weather is similar to my home. Also both places are on the water, of course. I’ve always lived on the water—that’s been very important to me.
CM: What inspired you to open your first restaurant, La Fourchette?
PG: When I opened La Fourchette [on King Street] in 2005, I wanted it to be a laid-back bistro, like something you’d see on a neighborhood corner in France. But then I began to see the crème de la crème coming in to eat, all dressed up, and I thought, Oh my God. Others would tell me they didn’t have an outfit to wear to my restaurant. I didn’t want to make it upscale; the customers of Charleston made it upscale. So I started serving foie gras, more fancy things. I think a lot of people believe this stereotype about French restaurants—that they have to be expensive, fine dining places.
CM: You sold La Fourchette in 2013. What did you do next?
PG: I was lucky to sell it very well, so I took some time off and traveled. I visited one of my sisters in New York City; another sister in the South of France; and my brother, who still lives in Brittany. Then after two years, I got bored and had to get back to work. And every time I was in Charleston, people would stop me on the street and say, “Perig, we need your French cuisine! We need your steak frites! We need you!”
CM: We did! What made you come back?
PG: I decided that if I’m going to open another restaurant, it would have to be in the right place and just for locals. When you’re dining at a big-name place in Charleston, you’re treated the same, whether you’ve lived here forever or are visiting for two days. In France, neighborhood cafés are like homes; people live there. When everybody knows each other, that’s a local restaurant—that’s what I wanted to create.
CM: What did you do differently when opening Goulette?
PG: I kept the news quiet—no website, no Facebook page, just the address [in the former Lana space on Rutledge Avenue]. I wanted the opening to spread by word of mouth, by locals who knew me. It’s casual; I want people to come in wearing shorts. I’ll be working in shorts.
CM: Is the menu less formal, too?
PG: It’s still French, but more relaxed. The Niçoise salad [from La Fourchette] is here, but I also have fish and chips, a pulled-pork sandwich, and ketchup for frites. My wines aren’t just French; I also have bottles from Italy, Portugal, and Spain.
CM: It smells delicious in your kitchen. What are you making?
PG: I just put the final touch on my ratatouille—it’ll be on the menu at dinner tonight. I know what you’re thinking, “Of course he’s making ratatouille!” But not everything at the restaurant is so French-in-your-face. Except for me. I’m French and in your face.
Photograph by (GOULET) by Molly Zacher & ZACHER & (LOUVRE) Kiev Victor/Shuttershock.com