INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — In the early afternoon, before the rush of the first arriving reservations, chef Jean-Pierre Doignon cuts and washes a large fish.
He wears the white double-breasted outfit particular only to a head chef. The ringtone of “Fur Elise” is heard, and the Frenchman answers his mobile in an accented English. Within a few moments, he is speaking Spanish with French mixed throughout. He ends the conversation again in English.
Doignon has traveled the world working as a chef, but finally settled at Lake Tahoe 35 years ago when he opened La Cheminee in Kings Beach. He now owns Le Bistro in the Country Club Mall in Incline Village. The critically acclaimed chef will celebrate 22 years its opening this September.
“This little place has been good for us,” he said while surveying the small space of his kitchen. “After awhile, customers become friends.”
Doignon says he “has system that works well” at Le Bistro, and locals and visitors would agree. The cuisine is French, as well as the quaint countryside décor.
His wife, Sylvia Doignon, says Jean-Pierre’s beef dish is her favorite, if she had to pick just one, and that French food in general “has so many flavors and tastes that explode in your palette.”
Jean-Pierre enjoys working with fish, he says, because of “the texture and the taste of it. It can be simple or elaborate.”
The chef’s training in France and years working in Canada, Bahamas and Mexico left him with an impressive resumé that allowed him to work anywhere he chose.
After meeting Sylvia in Mexico City, Jean-Pierre and she moved back to France. And just as his wife began to acclimate to the culture and language, she said, Jean-Pierre decided he missed America and wanted to pursue his dreams here.
“I didn’t want to work for somebody else anymore,” he said.
Jean-Pierre is proud to say that fine dining is changing in the United States, and for the better.
“Customers have been to Europe many times and they want to eat like they do there,” he said. “And American wine is so good and famous now … the wine industry brought gourmet to a higher level.”
When not in the kitchen, Jean-Pierre is with his family. He describes himself as a “family man” and says he most enjoys Sunday dinner when he has “the whole gang together.”
The Doignons’ daughters are trilingual, having grown up speaking Spanish with their mother, French with their father and English at school in Kings Beach and Tahoe City.
Sylvia and Jean-Pierre pass down not only their native languages, but also the belief in sharing meals with family.
“It’s important for kids to know they can talk with their parents and have fun with them,” Sylvia said as she recalled the large family gatherings of her childhood.
Sylvia remembers her grandmother making large pots of food, feeding the family twice over and all of the visiting and laughter that transpired around the table. As a mother of two and wife of a chef, she says family meals have been a priority for them.
“Today everyone is on iPhones; I like to be able to talk and know how everyone is and what everybody did,” she said. “I’m happy we’re a close family.”
Le Bistro is always closed, per Sylvia’s long-standing request, on Christmas and Christmas Eve.
Just as Jean-Pierre recalls the excitement he felt helping prepare his favorite dish on cold wet days in Burgundy, France. His granddaughters will remember standing on stools to measure spices or chop onions alongside their grandparents.
Sylvia says the fact the young girls are only pretending to chop doesn’t matter.
“It’s that they are included in the family activity,” she said. “Our lives are around food.”
“Customers have been to Europe many times and they want to eat like they do there.”