March 02, 2005 News & Features » Cover Story


Chef Frits Huntjens 

1 North Belmont

For example, Huntjens' New York strip steak comes with a cognac sauce; the rack of lamb with a merlot demi-glace; guinea hen with red pepper mousseline; pork tenderloin with an apple brandy sauce; and filet mignon with Madeira.

He makes six variations of potatoes, including the traditional pommes frites, and a soufflé that takes a half-hour to make. It's time-consuming work — he puts in 12-hour days, six days a week.

Huntjens, who grew up in Holland, where his father owned a French restaurant, trained at a national apprenticeship program in the Netherlands. And he says he's continuing a tradition that dates to the French Revolution. Before that, he explained, few commoners ate out, and then only when traveling. Chefs cooked almost exclusively for royalty, but when the king, princes and dukes lost their heads, their cooks lost their jobs.

That's when chefs came up with the idea of opening their own restaurants, where they cooked meals "fit for a king." Because transportation was difficult, they relied on locally grown products. Climate was another major factor, especially in growing grapes for wine.

Thanks to jet travel, Huntjens doesn't have to depend on fish from local waters — the Dover sole is flown in from England; truffles from France; foie gras from Canada; and cheese from around the world — but he mostly relies on Virginia products, including lamb from the Shenandoah Valley and produce from Goochland County.

Huntjens says that today, like two centuries ago, the outcome depends upon the skill and pocketbook of the chef. "It's not just the food, but the whole experience," he says. "We truly try to entertain our guests."

At 1 North Belmont, that experience includes soft lighting and music, linen tablecloths, entrees delivered covered with stainless-steel domes removed simultaneously by waiters in a sort of ballet; whole fish filleted tableside, cheese plates and a wine cellar with nearly 100 labels, most of them French.

The trick is to pull that off without being stuffy, which Huntjens and his maitre d', Scott Worsham, accomplish by chatting with patrons without being intrusive. — Don Baker

1 North Belmont
Belmont and Ellwood
Dinner only, 5:30-10 p.m., closed Sundays.

The French Connection continued...



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