Thanksgiving with Scott Crawford

merci beaucoup

Scott Crawford’s French-inspired Thanksgiving

by iza wojciechowska
photography by keith isaacs

Scott Crawford is a family man. Two years ago, when the five-star chef and five-time James Beard Award semifinalist opened his own restaurant, Crawford and Son, family was at the forefront of his mind—in the restaurant’s name, his family’s involvement, and the ambience of the neighborhood spot. Now, his family business is expanding with a new French bistro right next door. The bistro, slated for a spring 2019 opening, is named Jolie, after Crawford’s 8-year-old daughter.

“Jolie was young when we decided to name Crawford and Son, and that happened because of a tradition in my family of entrepreneurship and the Crawford name being on businesses,” Crawford says. “But it wasn’t long after that that she started to question how she came into this thing. And I told her I had a plan, and I did.” Jolie will be a classic French bistro—bustling, vibrant, friendly, and cozy—and will offer a modern twist on traditional flavors. The main space will seat approximately 30 at tables and six at the bar and have an open kitchen. Big windows will allow lots of light, and marble tabletops, characteristic French paneling, and white-painted brick will make the space feel bright and inviting—a marked contrast from the dark-brick, heavy-wood, masculine feel of Crawford and Son. A pergola-covered, heated rooftop will seat an additional 20 and be open year-round, recreating the setting of French outdoor dining spilling out onto the sidewalks of quaint Parisian streets.

The driving forces behind Jolie are happiness and simplicity. “When [diners] walk in and they look at the menu, and they see the design and they feel the vibe, I want them to be instantly happy,” Crawford says. “Nothing about the dining experience will be complicated. You could be on this rooftop, in a little neighborhood, having great steak frites and a duck pie—so you feel like there’s something special about it, but it’s not complicated.”
It was always Crawford’s vision to bring a French neighborhood bistro to Raleigh, but the catalyst was a trip he and his family took to Paris last year. They ate at local spots for inspiration, and Jolie fell in love with the city.
“I’ve never seen one of my children connect with the people, the culture, the energy, the pastries, the food, everything like that. She cried when she had to leave Paris. She wanted to live there forever,” Crawford says. His daughter’s newfound Francophilia, his family tradition, and the definition of “jolie” (which means “pretty” in French) all coalesced and made perfect sense. There was no question in his mind about what the restaurant’s name would be. And his daughter loves it.

Classic flavors with a modern flair
To hear Crawford read the preliminary menu he’s concocted for Jolie is like listening to him read poetry, the French terms rolling off the tongue, the way he relishes each word as he lists the ingredients of an appetizer (“escargot with Robuchon-style potato butter, and pea stew, and crispy garlic”). It’s clear that he can’t wait to bring these old French dishes to life with what he calls “a new-school presentation.” Other classics one can expect to see at Jolie are seafood stews in tomato-ham broth (“with a nice piece of baguette, just slightly buttered and toasted, for dipping in the broth,” Crawford envisions); “the best onion soup ever”; braised leeks with dijon butter, capers, and tarragon; bone marrow gratin; charcuterie plates with French hams, rillette, and chicken liver pate; rabbit cassoulet; pork cheeks with lentils and celery root; steak frites; and a traditional duck pie. Desserts will include seasonal fruit tarts; chocolate bread pudding with Valrhona chocolate and salted pecan caramel; and, of course, cheese. The bistro will also feature a rotating all-French beer and wine list.

“I hope that we land on that middle ground between old school and new school, classic and modern,” Crawford says. “Right there in the middle is that sweet spot, that little modern edge that makes it exciting, but that classic feel that gives the feeling of nostalgia and feels familiar and comforting.” Crawford was classically trained in the French cooking tradition and worked at a French bistro right after leaving culinary school. In his work throughout the years, classical French cooking has always felt second nature, he says, even when he moved toward more American cuisines. “Every once in a while, you would see in my dishes maybe just a nod to that classic technique—even now, still. But now [at Jolie], we’re revisiting that. It’s so much fun. It’s also fun to introduce people to these dishes, who have never really geeked out on French food or experienced it.”

All in the family

Crawford’s devotion to running a family business goes beyond just his restaurants’ names. When he decided to start the Crawford Hospitality Group two years ago, every member of the family was involved in the discussions.
“We made the decision as a family. My wife works with me here [at Crawford and Son]. We raise our kids here. We run it together. It’s a true family business,” he says.

Crawford’s wife, Jessica, does the restaurants’ accounting, in-house photography, and marketing. Their son, Jiles, 11, washes dishes at Crawford and Son on Saturdays to learn work ethic, and Jolie has already expressed that she wants to work at Jolie. Though he expects both his kids to go to college, Crawford is eager for them to help out at his restaurants as much as possible to learn about the industry, hard work, and customer service, echoing the way he himself learned hospitality as a kid, working at his grandfather’s sawmill with his older brother. For Crawford, continuing this tradition is what it’s all about.
“It only makes sense to me to name my businesses directly connected with my family,” he says. “Every other name that we’ve thought of has just felt contrived. And I want my restaurants to be around for a long time. I don’t want them to feel trendy.”

Crawford also recently announced he’ll be continuing the family tradition with a third restaurant, the Crawford Brothers steakhouse, which will go into the Fenton development in Cary.
But for now, his focus remains on Jolie and on making sure that his two restaurants serve their neighborhood well. “If you’ve been to Paris—or New York or anywhere, really—and enjoyed a real French bistro experience, then you’ll feel right at home when you walk into Jolie,” he says. But even if you haven’t, sliding into this little slice of Paris on the corner, bright and vibrant, ordering a bottle of French red wine and a beautiful cheese plate is all a rather jolie prospect, non?