Restauranteur, cyclist, and new dad, Laurent Francois of Le Botaniste, the new the plant-based organic food and natural wine bar located on Manhattan's Upper East Side, talks to FIT+LOVE about the concept and going back to its “roots."
Laurent Francois sits at the corner table with his army self-professed "warriors for vegetables" donned in laboratory coats and camouflage scarves. They are strategizing their mission of elevating plants to the top of the food pyramid, not only for those who identify as vegetarian or vegan, but for everyone.
Le Botaniste is the latest food concept from Alain Coumont, chef and founder of Le Pain Quotidien. Conceived as a fast-casual concept, vegetables are celebrated in hot and cold dishes that are prepared in the environs of a 19th century pharmacy and delivered in hand-glazed pottery. Patrons watch their meals being formulated from the most gloriously colorful medicinal compounds - beets, greens, kimchi and curries - each delicately composed and Instagram-ready. This mélange of the slow food movement - organic, plant-based, artisanal - melded with the notion that even fast food can be nutrient dense, provides a welcome alternative to the salad. In fact, there's not a single item on the menu with that name.
The Pea Hummus served with a hearty seeded gluten-free bread (which you'll recognize from the LPQ bakery) is certain way to whet the palate, followed by one of the signature bowls. The Tibetan Mama Rice (Peanut Curry Sauce, Kimchi and Steamed Greens) Vegetable Tagine (Quinoa, Root Vegetables & Microgreens), and Dirty Noodle Soup (Free Range Tofu, Steamed Leeks, Miso Ginger) are particularly hearty as this cold and wet spring weather persists, and for those making their way from one of local boutique studios or gyms down the street, the Jasmine Green Tea and Flaxseed Brownie are just the right prescription for recovery.
It is late afternoon and we sit at the wine bar and share a glass of sparkling rose. The wine list boasts only organic 100% sulfate-free bottles, many of which have been cultivated from Coumont's own vineyards. During our interview, Laurent makes his way around the room, talking with staff, visiting with patrons, and, popping into the kitchen.
When he's not chasing down compostable cutlery or his five month old baby, he takes to the bike. As soon as the weather is nice, he enjoys cycling and running outdoors and is training now for the AirBNB Brooklyn Half Marathon. Admittedly, "there's plenty of running around here," he chuckles about the nature of his work at Le Botaniste. For Laurent, it's all about balance - with nature, with his body, and with the family he's cultivated at home and at work.
At Le Botaniste, every employee has a story - both a PhD and an Attorney work in the kitchen, and managers are trained to do everything. This hands on approach that disrupts organizational hierarchies comes straight from the top. Francois recounts the days before the eatery's opening when Coumont was installing subway tiles on the wall of the bar himself. At the root of this company's philosophy is that "no one is above getting their hands dirty."
Le Botaniste is located at 833 Lexington Avenue between 63rd and 64th Streets.