To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Center City District Restaurant Week, we’ll be spending time celebrating the chefs—and some of their favorite recipes—as we get closer to the event.
This week, we’re excited to share some stories and insights from the chef and owner of Caribou Café, Olivier Desaintmartin. As one of Center City District Restaurant Week’s original participants, Olivier has seen the city’s transformation into a culinary dining destination.
What inspired your journey to become a chef?
My grandmother’s and my mother’s kitchen smelled so good that I wanted to be able to cook like them as young as 7 years of age. I still can smell these aromas if I close my eyes.
What inspired your approach to cooking?
I was always a fan of classic foods, techniques, and tastes from the regional food from Europe and different countries. These foods make me happy, and I want to respect cultural cuisine.
What has been the proudest moment of your journey as a chef?
There have been many proud moments, but being asked to board the world’s best cruise line as a guest chef for over 10 trips is pretty rewarding!
Can you tell us about the recipe your team shared, including the story behind it, its inspiration, and why you chose to submit it?
During a cruise in Alaska, I got a chance to get freshly fished king salmon. Before using it cooked, I used it raw, and wow the difference with any salmon I ever used! A totally different fish.
How have you seen Center City evolve since opening?
I was there since day one. And what was a great chance for Philadelphians, neighbors from New Jersey, and from outside Philly to discover new ethnic cuisines, new restaurants to 20 years later being part of this mania that everyone talks about and wants to be part of. Eat at as many restaurants in two weeks as you can.
This September, Center City District Restaurant Week (CCDRW) will celebrate its 20 year anniversary. As an original chef and restauranteur that participated in the program, to what do you credit its success?
Philadelphia became a restaurant town in the ’90s, but CCDRW really put Center City restaurants on the map for two full weeks, twice a year for Philadelphia and its region by featuring many of the classic, eclectic, and ethnic restaurants. It also installed such a vibe in Center City; you can hear all the way from South Jersey to the Main Line, “It’s Restaurant Week in Philadelphia!”
What misconceptions do you think people have of French cuisine?
The misconception from the '80s about French Cuisine is thank god so different in 2023. People have traveled more, they are more educated in all sorts of cuisine including French cuisine. French restaurant lightened their sauces, basics stayed the same at an affordable prices especially bistros. French, Spanish, Italian and Greek cuisines are and will remain among the best.
We thank Olivier and Caribou Café for sharing his stories! Learn more about the restaurant online, and make a reservation through our friends at OpenTable.
Stay tuned as we continue to share more of these stories as we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Center City District Restaurant Week, and check out all of the amazing restaurant options in Center City!