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 V.20 No.29 | July 21 - 27, 2011 

Mina's Dish

The Return of Chef Claus

Hjortkjaer takes the helm at La Provence

Chef Claus takes a break to chat.
Mina Yamashita
Chef Claus takes a break to chat.

Brasserie la Provence

3001 Central NE • 254-7644

I was among the many diners who mourned the demise of Le Café Miche in 2009. From the beginning of Chef Claus Hjortkjaer’s tenure in 1996 until it closed, Miche was one of Albuquerque’s most popular venues for upscale continental dining. Hjortkjaer tells me that the location coupled with the advent of ABQ Uptown brought him to an economic impasse and closing.

La Provence, at the corner of Central and Dartmouth
Mina Yamashita
La Provence, at the corner of Central and Dartmouth

But weep no more. Hjortkjaer is in the process of making the Brasserie La Provence his own. Hjortkjaer comes to this new venture with longtime friend, and now business partner, Caryl Cochran.

After Café Miche, Hjortkjaer moved through the city’s restaurants, often behind the scenes. He was executive chef at Four Hills Country Club and was a guest chef at numerous events in New Mexico and out of state. Eventually he found himself working at La Provence as its executive chef.

Escargot sans shells in pools of golden garlic butter
Mina Yamashita
Escargot sans shells in pools of golden garlic butter

But his love of food and cooking needed expression in his own restaurant, and he put out the word that he was searching for a new place. As it turns out, he was already there. Steve Paternoster, owner of La Provence, gave Hjortkjaer the opportunity to buy the establishment a month ago.

A rich cassoulet of duck confit, lamb, pork, sausage and beans
Mina Yamashita
A rich cassoulet of duck confit, lamb, pork, sausage and beans

Cochran, now a working partner, hosts the front of the house with Hjortkjaer’s wife, Linda. The menu is pared down and reflects Hjortkjaer’s philosophy of offering fewer items that focus more on quality. His ingredients are sourced from local producers whenever possible. Last week he bought purple potatoes harvested that morning by an area farmer.

The banquettes invite diners to a cozy meal.
Mina Yamashita
The banquettes invite diners to a cozy meal.

The menu includes French classics such as salade Niçoise, steak frites, cassoulet, boeuf Bourguignon and coq au vin. But Hjortkjaer also throws a Reuben sandwich into the mix, and he makes a mean burger.

Hjortkjaer tells me he’s excited about bringing his new menu to the thousands of diners he’s fed over the years. If you’re on his email list, you’ve already heard about his monthly cooking classes. But he gets positively giddy when he tells me about the continental breakfast beginning on Aug. 1.

“We’ll open at 7 a.m. with croissants, Danishes—of course, since I’m Danish—and really good French coffee.” He’ll also have a quiche for the egg dish. Hjortkjaer says he’s very aware of his location next-door to UNM. He sees the La Provence as part of the neighborhood—a place where folks can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner, take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, or drop in for a glass of wine at the end of the day. With a sunny patio, banquettes, bar and dining room, the revamped Brasserie La Provence is saving a seat for everyone.

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