Who says you can’t have it all? Just a few weeks ago, Julien Gremaud, executive chef and owner of Avocado Grill celebrated his hip, fresh, ‘Europe meet Les Caraïbes’ restaurant’s three-year anniversary. The soft-spoken restauranteur doesn’t mince words as he directs his focus on the object of his affection.
Avocado Grill has a very cozy atmosphere, even a little retro. The food is exquisite, the staff is friendly, fast and professional. When it comes to wining and dining in downtown West Palm Beach, Avocado Grill reigns supreme, as it is without doubt the kind of restaurant that food lovers love. And for good reason. Grilled, spiced or seared, every morsel is délicieux.
Chef Julien Gremaud’s role as owner and executive chef puts him on top of this magnificent food chain establishment as equal parts head chef, head honcho, and keen observer. With the first Avocado Grill success, he has ventured onto the second in downtown at the Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens, which is slated to open next month.
I met up with him to talk about his past, present and future. And like a true French gentleman from Saint Tropez, the summer destination for the glitterati, he gave credit first to his mother and second to his supporting team for influencing his restaurant’s tasty food and great ambiance.
“There is a great buzz to the place,” he admitted as we sat back at one of his restaurant’s Avocado green booths to chat.
When did you start cooking? I started cooking at a very young age. My mom was a very talented cook and I enjoyed cooking with her in our kitchen, and then it became my passion and my profession.
And where was this? In Saint Tropez, France.
That’s a Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southeaster France. I believe Brigitte Bardot frolicked on the beaches of St. Tropez in the ‘50s, and now it’s the playground for young and not so young socialites. It is.
How long have you been in the States? Thirteen years.
And how long have you been a chef? I’ve been cooking for a long time. In fact, I was 14 years old when I began working in my first restaurant during my summers in St. Tropez. That’s when it is season there. I left France several years ago and went to London, then Chicago, and now I’m here in South Florida.
What was the attraction to West Palm Beach? I came on vacation with friends and immediately liked it. I was tired of Chicago’s cold weather, and so found this to be a great place to work and live.
So how did you come up with the concept for Avocado Grill? I like a good mix of European and Caribbean cuisine, which is influenced by Florida weather. So in the menu you will always find a tropical influence, a European influence, and a Caribbean influence. We try to make it light, fresh, and involve all the best local ingredients, such as the avocado, which adapts well to this weather.
Hence, Avocado Grill… [smiling] That’s right!
Your dishes are decadent, fresh and refined without being too rich. What’s your secret? And do you have any favorites? I like fresh, flavorful ingredients, and so I like everything that’s on my menu. I think everything is delicious, but I do have a couple of things that are very special, like our grilled avocado wedges and our scallops, which are very popular.
For lunch, my favorite dish is your Grilled Chicken Avocado BLT sandwich with a side of truffle fries. And I know your plates are perfectly sized for two people, but that’s one dish I won’t share with anyone! [laughing] That’s good!
Most people know your place is hopping at nighttime when West Palm Beach’s vibe goes up a notch. But I wonder if everybody knows about your delicious Saturday and Sunday brunch menu? Your Mushroom Fricassee is sinful, but I love it. Thank you, and yes, we have a great following of food lovers on the weekends. My eggs Benedict are very popular, as my scrambled eggs with piment d’Espelette, but I find my Jerez-spiked shrimp special to be quite… special.
Your products are so fresh, where do you find them? Well, for instance, the Octopus is imported from Portugal. The scallops come from the Northeast, and for the ingredients, we use local farms as much as possible for produce: lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, and other vegetables.
You’re now venturing in a second Avocado Grill, destined for Downtown at the Gardens, in the former RA Sushi space. When is the grand opening? In December.
What made you think of that location? Well, I saw how popular our restaurant became with food lovers in downtown West Palm Beach. So, I asked some of my regular diners what they thought about the idea of me opening a second location, and many of them mentioned Palm Beach Gardens. So, after months of searching and planning, we found Downtown at the Gardens to be the perfect spot.
I’ve heard that you’re keeping a chef’s journal, jotting down your observations on the process of opening a new restaurant. How’s that going? [smiling] Good.
Will the menu be any different from your first Avocado Grill? It will be similar. Perhaps you will see some different dishes.
Would you care to share some of them? Not at this time.
And what are the demographics of both locations? I think the reason why our concept is successful here, and I expect there too, is because we appeal to everybody. Young people like to grab a quick bite before they go out to the movies or somewhere else. We also appeal to people who are older and want to have a really nice lunch or dinner. I think our menu is very well constructed to appeal to everybody.
Avocado Grill has built a loyal following in our city with your fresh and creative dishes. As a chef, you probably work around 70 hours a week to ensure that happens. Probably more than that. Because not only do I chef the restaurant, but as the owner, I have to deal with everything else. There’s always some responsibility, like accounting, human resources, marketing… But, I feel fortunate that I have a great supporting team.
And now you have another restaurant on the works, which means more responsibility… Exactly. I’ll be dividing my time between the two restaurants, wherever I’m needed.
So, aside from cooking, what do you like to do for fun? I have a nine-month old baby, and I love to play tennis. So on my time off, I like to enjoy spending time with both. And that’s about it!
Avocado Grill is located in downtown West Palm Beach at 125 Datura Street, steps from the city’s idyllic Intracoastal Waterway.
The owner of West Palm Beach’s lively Avocado Grill Chef Julien Gremaud sat down to speak with WPB Magazine about his experience, goals, and future.