Authentic French dining comes alive at Champêtre, an intimate restaurant located in a quaint Dutchess County hamlet.
Chef Michel Jean has had an extraordinary career as a top chef. He’s worked in the dining room at Michelin-starred restaurants including The River Café and Le Cirque in New York City, apprenticed at Moroccan King Hassan II, and created memorable meals for politicians, rock stars, actors, and artists.
A graduate of École Hôtelière in Nice, Michel and his wife, Patricia, have owned several successful restaurants stretching from Manhattan to the south of France. One of their legacies is Provence, the esteemed SoHo bistro that Zagat repeatedly listed in its “Top 10 Romantic Restaurants” throughout the 1990s. Mick Jagger dined there. So did actor Gérard Depardieu, singer Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, and HV resident Martha Stewart.
The couple has lived in Pine Plains since 1989. They took over Stissing House in 2005, and ran it as a French-inspired restaurant, before ending their lease in 2021. (Acclaimed chef Clare de Boer took over soon after.) But Michel, age 74, was not ready to retire his toque. In July 2021, he and Patricia opened the stylish but simple Champêtre, just four doors away from Stissing House. “I like to joke about it,” says Michel. “This is like semi-retirement, going from 120 seats to 23.” The new, smaller digs suit them just fine.
Champêtre, which means “rural” in French, reflects their love for the countryside. Michel grew up in Bel-Air, a small town outside of Salon-de-Provence in southern France, and longed to return to his rural roots, particularly since he is a hunting and riding enthusiast. “I discovered that Dutchess County had a lot of shooting and riding clubs,” he says. “That’s why we decided to put our roots down here. Pine Plains still has that small-town feel, even though it’s changed over the years.”
They say that everything about Champêtre, from its size to its pace, feels just right post-pandemic. “With a smaller restaurant, we’re able to work more closely with small farms and purveyors,” explains Patricia. “Michel is cooking the food of his heritage…with products from the Hudson Valley.”
The petite space, the former location of Italian restaurant Agriturismo and breakfast spot Crumpets, needed a bit of sprucing up before its summer opening. The Jeans stripped the linoleum floor, polished the concrete, and installed a new kitchen. Their daughter, Emilie, an antique textile dealer in New York City, designed the concept, incorporating banquettes from The Roxy, a former nightclub in Manhattan, chic barstools Patricia ordered from eBay, and vintage chairs that her friend, an antique dealer, had rescued from a dumpster in the 1980s.
Though Michel serves as head chef and Patricia handles the front of the house, the cozy space allows them to forge a better connection to their guests. Even on busy nights, Champêtre exudes an utterly French private dinner party vibe. The tables are ideal for a romantic date, while corner nooks summon slightly larger parties. Overall, the setting is designed for warm conversations over delicious, rustic French dishes. Michel draws exclusively from his Provençal roots—heavy on fresh game, seafood, seasonal vegetables, and herbs—which means guests can savor classic appetizers like escargots in garlic and herb-butter sauce; fried baby artichokes served with a rouille sauce; and, of course, a fabulous French onion soup gratinée.
Standout entrees include Hudson Valley duck confit, seared and served with Castelluccio lentils; pan-seared duck breast served with quince sauce; steak frites served with peppercorn cognac sauce or classic Béarnaise; and steak tartare, which features locally sourced beef in a spicy mustard-based sauce with capers, shallots, parsley, and cognac. And what’s a French restaurant without bouillabaisse? The Provençal fish stew is among Champetre’s rotating specials.
Be sure to save room for dessert. Among the many gems are île flottante, a floating meringue in crème anglaise that few restaurants feature on their menus, and marquise au chocolat, a rich chocolate ganache terrine held together by lady fingers and served in a pool of espresso and crème anglaise with pistachios.
Sourcing local ingredients and operating an environmentally friendly business are important to the Jeans, who purchase products from Pine Plains-based Full Circus Farm, Chaseholm Farm Creamery, and Black Sheep Hill Farm, as well as MX Morningstar Farm in Hudson. “[Our] menu is flexible and sustainable,” says Patricia. “We’re able to compost and recycle without being overwhelmed by the volume, and Michel is cooking the food that he loves.”