CINCINNATI — Food, family and friendship.
That's why 120 people gathered Monday evening at Restaurant L, located at 305 E. Fourth St., Downtown, for a special six-course meal crafted by two culinary masters.
"I've wanted to come to Cincinnati for many years," said famed New York City chef Daniel Boulud. "My best friend Jean-Robert de Cavel is here."
Boulud said he was prompted to organize the evening in Cincinnati after his friend was diagnosed with sarcoma last year. Monday night's sold-out dinner was a fund-raiser to support ongoing medical treatment for de Cavel.
De Cavel, who previously hasn't spoken publicly about his cancer diagnosis, said Monday that he's doing well.
"I will never be cancer free but hopefully (OK thanks to) cancer care for decades," he said.
After going through chemotherapy, de Cavel said, his cancer is currently in remission. He added that he does not "want to be the center of attention."
"What I'm going through can happen suddenly to anybody," he said.
Instead, de Cavel viewed Monday's event as a way to honor his supporters and his longtime friendship with Boulud. It was also a chance for de Cavel to pause and give thanks, he said.
"It's going to be emotional," de Cavel said before the dinner. "Because the people of Cincinnati are the people of Cincinnati, I feel extremely overwhelmed by the support. I'm a lucky person."
He added Boulud's visit to Cincinnati is something the two have discussed for years. De Cavel said his cancer diagnosis reminded him how important it is to live in the present.
"Things you always talk about, things you want to do, just do it and have fun with it," de Cavel said.
The Frenchmen and master chefs have been friends since 1986, when de Cavel moved to New York City as a sous chef. Boulud already was an established chef working in the United States, and he has remained supportive of de Cavel's career ever since.
"This is for an important cause, to support Jean-Robert," said Boulud, as he worked alongside de Cavel on Monday morning in the kitchen of Restaurant L.
De Cavel credits Boulud for de Cavel's move to Cincinnati 25 years ago.
"Funny enough, he received a visit from the Comisar family, the owner of the Maisonette," de Cavel said.
The family of the venerable Cincinnati restaurant told Boulud they were looking to hire a young, European chef.
"I said he should look at the restaurant, the Maisonette," Boulud said.
The rest is Cincinnati culinary history. De Cavel moved to the Queen City in 1993 as the Maisonette's new executive chef. After the Maisonette closed in 2005, he then helped transform the region's culinary scene by opening a series of restaurants. De Cavel's JR Group of restaurants currently includes Jean-Robert's Table, French Crust Bistro & Cafe, Le Bar a Boeuf, Frenchie Fresh and L.
"Amazing. Interesting," de Cavel said of his more than two decades in Cincinnati. "I'm still here. I'm proud to be a Cincinnatian. The life of downtown, it wasn't what it is today. I was part of it. It's that beautiful evolution."
Monday evening was not the first time Boulud and de Cavel worked together in a kitchen. They've teamed up for charity events outside of Cincinnati in the past, Boulud said.
"It's an obligation coming from my heart," de Cavel said of his extensive charitable work, both with Boulud and in Cincinnati. "I feel it's my duty. It's a payback to everybody."
"On many occasions we have had the chance to work together for charity," Boulud added. "This time it is about the two of us. It's about our friendship, our 25 years or more of friendship."