BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Christian Routier is on a mission.
As chef of Le Bouchon Bistro, he plans to expand the menu with the specialties of southwest France, mainly the rich country cuisine of his hometown of Auch and environs that feature dishes made with duck, pork, goose, lamb and beef.
The restaurant's menu already offers traditional French dishes like beef bourguignon, coq au vin, carre d'agneau (rack of lamb), escargots, thin crepes with chicken, veggies or seafood, duck confit, pate, foie gras and French onion soup.
Routier plans vegetables and cod served with aioli sauce, ratatouille of stewed vegetables, and cassoulet, the fragrant, slow-cooked stew or casserole with white beans and various meats that is the soul food of southwest France and dates back to the 14th century.
Routier, who lives in Largo, said he will introduce the dishes "little bit by little bit."
"More and more I will cook my way — traditional to the southwest," he said. "What is working (with customers), I will keep."
At 14, Routier knew he wanted to be a chef.
He spent the next four years at a culinary school in Auch, an ancient town in southwest France noted for, among other things, its statue of d'Artagnan, who Alexandre Dumas based on the real-life Comte d'Artagnan, born in a nearby chateau.
After a long career as a chef and restaurant owner in Toulouse, France, he came to Florida in 1998 to work in a friend's restaurant in Sarasota.
Routier, 51, joined Le Bouchon, which means "the cork," as one of two chefs in 2005, the same year Richard File bought the restaurant. He later became a partner in the business with File.
Routier prepares the dinners and daily specials. Sous chef Patrick Carnes cooks the lunches.
Al Bardi, a consultant and appraiser of fine antique firearms who lives in Seminole, said he stops by the restaurant at least once a week for French cheese and wine and every two weeks for dinner.
"The quality of the food has always been the same: excellent," Bardi said. "Christian is quite a chef. I can't say enough about him."
Ellen Lazenby of Belleair, who owns the nearby shop 432 West Side, said she and her husband, eye surgeon Dr. G. William Lazenby, are frequent diners.
"His mussels are phenomenal," Ellen Lazenby said, "and my husband loves the coq au vin."
The one-room restaurant can seat 34 to 45. "It's small, but that's what makes it so nice," she said. "It has a wonderful ambience."
Florence Siegler, a native of Paris and a financial coach with Primerica, said she and her fiance eat at the restaurant every Friday.
The food, she said, "for me is what I will find in the southwest of France, the same quality, same diversity."
"If you want real French food made by a French cook where French people eat, it's the place to go."