Bagatelle's Matthieu Godard on Running a Party-Free Kitchen

On the corner of 21st Street and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, a nondescript white building stands. As dusk begins to fall, neon blue lettering lights up. The sign reads "Bagatelle." Unbeknownst to many, an evening of opulence and indulgence is about to begin inside the French-Mediterranean restaurant, redefining traditional dining for a swank, booze-filled soiree. 

To executive chef Matthieu Godard, who opened Bagatelle's Miami outpost in January 2015, the restaurant's cuisine supersedes that which Bagatelle is best known — exaggerated drink presentations (loud horns, sparklers, and an occasional Superman cameo), a dinnertime DJ spinning sultry beats, and lots of beautiful people. 

Godard studied food and beverage in France. He began his career at Club Med resorts in France, Spain, and Greece and later spent more than eight years at chef Daniel Boulud's DB Bistro Moderne. Bagatelle, Godard says, was something he had never before experienced. 

"I thought the challenge was incredibly unique," he says. "That's really why I jumped in. I had also never done an opening before. I spent a lot of time in its New York location to understand the concept. It was very important for me to understand what I was getting myself into, because Bagatelle isn't a regular restaurant."

A year and a half later, Godard maintains a quiet, tight-knit kitchen behind the glitz, glamour, and craziness that is Bagatelle. The party, he says, stops the second someone steps inside his cookhouse. 

"It was difficult, and it still is difficult," he says. "People come here to party, but we need to keep our head on our shoulders. I want people to know that they can have a fun time here, but they will also get great food. It's important to maintain that level of quality."

Instead of flickering dance lights, Godard says, the only thing he sees is the plate that leaves his kitchen. Among the many responsibilities of being executive chef, such as designing menus and crafting dishes, ensuring the kitchen doesn't turn into a circus is among the most important, he says, especially at Bagatelle.

"It can get very noisy here," he laughs. "We hire people who really understand the cooking, though. And we make it known that the second you jump into the kitchen, the party stops."
Godard admits that it's been a challenge to find dedicated and committed chefs and that the hiring process is "difficult." 

"It's hard to find people who are willing to sacrifice and work long and hard hours," he says, "The new generation of chefs want to reinvent cooking too even though they don't know how to sear a piece of meat properly. It's important to focus on the basics first."

He recently launched a spring seasonal menu, where he fuses straightforward, brightly colored vegetables and ingredients into the brand's timeless menu.

"We do a new menu every season," he says. "It's hard in Miami because you're always in a version of summer, but we try to follow a season as best as possible.

"With Bagatelle, there's more flexibility with designing a menu too," he adds. "I have more freedom and can be more creative than I have in the past."

New Times was invited for a taste and sampled a smattering of Godard's latest additions, along with a few Bagatelle staples.
Bagatelle's tuna tartare ($34) topped with smashed avocado is a must-order for first-timer or regulars. Drizzled in a lime-soy vinaigrette and topped with a light and airy chip, the dish has been on the menu since day one. Godard's new heirloom tomato salad ($24) is perfect to pair — the fresh burrata and assortment of small and medium-size tomatoes serve as a palate-cleanser for what's to come.
Also consider Godard's charred octopus ($25). It's smothered in chorizo, smoked paprika, almonds, and grapes, giving it a sweet and smoky aftertaste. Don't bother sharing, because you'll want to devour the small bite solo. 
Godard crafted a Florida pompano dish ($36) for spring. The bread-crusted pompano, boasting a delicate and butter-like texture, nearly melts in your mouth. It's served with crushed potatoes and tomato confit. Pair the light dish with a Bagatelle classic — truffle gnocchi ($34). The house-made Parisian gnocchi is submerged in a creamy black truffle sauce and served with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. 
Don't forget dessert, which is entirely handcrafted. There's chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream, macaron varieties, sweet and sugary gummies, and other treats.

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Clarissa Buch Zilberman is a writer and editor, with her work appearing in print and digital titles worldwide.
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