My West Hollywood with Chef Raphael Francois of Tesse
Want to experience WeHo like a local? Let one of the coolest chefs in town show you around. The trailblazer behind Tesse, Boutellier Wines and the new Fanny's at the Academy Museum reveals some of his favorite spots in West Hollywood.
Tell us about yourself. Where were you before you came to West Hollywood?
Raphael Francois: I was living and working in Brussels, Paris, London and Hong Kong, and also exploring Africa for the spices and culture. In London, I was executive chef at the Connaught Hotel, which is a beautiful, gorgeous hotel in Mayfair. I couldn’t even speak English when I moved there from Paris.
Then I accomplished my dream since I was a teenager, which was to move to America. I was at Le Cirque in New York City for a few years, and then I started my first business venture with a small bistro in Washington D.C. called Le DeSales, which is still open. The first place I lived in L.A. was West Hollywood. Now it is my home. This is where I pitched my tent. My adventure started with a friendship, and from friendship we created our first restaurant, Tesse, and then Boutellier Wines on Sunset Boulevard.
What was the transition from East Coast to West Hollywood like?
RF: It was difficult to say no, because you have the sun all year around, you have the beach, you have the snow, mountains –anything you want. We are lucky here. It was one of the easiest transitions, I would say.
What’s a typical workday for you in West Hollywood?
RF: I start by meeting up with the team [at Fanny’s] in the morning. Then I make my way up the hill to meet with the team at Tesse. And then a lot of wine tasting, a lot of food tasting. I’m lucky. And in between, sweating a lot because I bike back and forth! So if you see someone biking up and down Fairfax, it’s probably me.
Why do you prefer to bike in the city?
RF: You see many fit people in West Hollywood as well, so you have to keep up. Biking helps me stay fit. I’m also trying to do my share about pollution, and trying to avoid using my car when it’s just going up the street. And actually, sometimes it’s faster than driving!
Describe your ideal day off in West Hollywood. What are you doing when you’re not working?
RF: On Sunset Boulevard, where Tesse is located, we have a coffee shop not far. I like hiking, doing the classic neighborhood stuff. I sometimes like enjoying a glass of wine and doing nothing, because where I’m from we also like doing nothing. Going to the [Melrose Trading Post] on Sunday, having my coffee at Alfred. Being in West Hollywood, we’re kind of central. We are not too far from downtown and not too far from the beach, so you can easily explore [both]. I think that West Hollywood is the heart of Los Angeles.
RF: Many people from all around Los Angeles like to party in West Hollywood, they go to Sunset Boulevard and then they go down to Santa Monica [Boulevard]. It’s a fun part of town for partying. And you have also the Laugh Factory, which is not far from Saddle Ranch, where you can also do cool stuff.
And you’re wearing cowboy boots…
RF: They’re actually from Boot Star in West Hollywood. It’s across the street next to Pink Dot. We have everything on [Sunset Boulevard]. And then we can go to Fred Segal if we want to be cool, and then come to Tesse for some charcuterie and wine.
What about the dining scene in West Hollywood?
RF: Historically, Sunset [Boulevard] in West Hollywood was a dining scene. For some reason, they started to disappear, but more and more restaurants are settling here. The dining scene in West Hollywood is booming. Wolfgang Puck just opened a restaurant [Merois] on Sunset. We have a couple of restaurants next to Tesse. The beauty of it is, you can literally have food and a cocktail at Tesse, then go down a couple of blocks and have fun on Santa Monica Boulevard. We are obviously happy to be in the middle of that popping movement in West Hollywood.