Q&A with top chef/owner Yves Carreau

The chef's kids were not raised on Happy Meals and Gogurts. Sebastien, 12, and Arielle, 9, grew up feasting on frog legs and smoked salmon.

In kindergarten, Sebastien announced his favorite food was escargot, and made the kids squeal when he explained he was downing snails. During the summers, Arielle holds crepe stands, complete with jam, jelly and sugar.

When your dad is Yves Carreau, owner of Sonoma Grille and Ceviche in Downtown, your palate tends to be sophisticated.

Mr. Carreau, a native of Lyon, France, also grew up eating good food.

Named 2007 Restaurateur of the Year by the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, he can be found in Sonoma Grille, a California-inspired restaurant with l00 wines by the glass, or in Ceviche, a sun-splashed Latin tapas bar, or traveling to Baltimore, where he is planning to open a new tapas restaurant called Talara.

Outside of his restaurant life, he likes to hang out at his modern, airy house in Trafford overlooking rural hills with his wife, Jennifer, and two children. He and Jennifer, who also works at the restaurants, balance work with soccer schedules and homework and food and exotic travel plans. They eat a lot of take-out, but not greasy bags from a drive-through window. The fresh salads, smoked salmon and other light fare comes from the kitchen of Sonoma Grille.

The 48-year-old chef, who has dual citizenship, hung out in his beautifully appointed digs with colorful glazed walls to answer questions about his life outside the restaurant kitchen and what he misses -- and doesn't miss -- about his native France.

Q: What is always in your home fridge?

A: Great mustard such as Maille, cornichons (sour gherkins) and good cheese such as Humboldt Fog.

Q: What is your favorite kitchen gadget?

A: Bodum coffee press.

Q: Your favorite food?

A: Smoked salmon from Norway or Scotland.

Q: Favorite movie?

"Ratatouille" is my favorite current movie. And "The Deer Hunter" is a favorite old movie, and that was before I moved to Pittsburgh.

Q: What is the best thing about being a restaurateur?

A: Being close to food is very rewarding. Instantly, you see it in people's faces when you feed them. You cook it, someone eats it and they give you a reaction. There is no delayed gratification. I am impatient.

Q: What is the worst thing about being a restaurateur?

A: If you let it, it's not amenable to family life. But you have to have balance. Sunday is family day. I come home one evening a week at 6 p.m.

Q: What is your hobby?

A: I play in an over-40 soccer league, on a team called Eastern European United, a group of stranded European soccer wannabes.

Q: Your favorite French food?

A: Maybe frog legs. You can't find the kind of quality here.

Q: Your least favorite French food?

A: Blood sausage or brains. You pick.

Q: What do you miss about France?

A: The culture, the food.

Q: What do you miss least about France?

A: The people, the attitude.

Q: What? Isn't that a stereotype?.

A: It's a stereotype, but it's true. It's a very selfish, me-first society. You go to the bank and there are no lines. It's whoever gets to the teller first.

Q: Your favorite American food?

A: I love Thanksgiving dinner. I always get upset if my turkey comes out dry. I am always looking for a better way to do it. You have to use brine.

Q: Your least favorite American food?

A: Some of the fast food like Taco Bell seems a little scary.

Q: Favorite place to grocery shop?

A: Giant Eagle Market District -- a very nice concept -- and Whole Foods.

Q: Your favorite Pittsburgh restaurants that you don't own?

A: Nine on Nine and Cafe Zao.

Q: Favorite time-waster?

A: Crossword puzzles. The No. 1 reason for my vocabulary is doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Q: Your most annoying quality?

A: I am not a screamer, but I can be temperamental if things don't go my way. I don't get temperamental about people making mistakes. If someone trips, I can pick up the slack calmly. ... I get aggravated when someone is not working hard, not trying.

Q: Book currently on your night stand?

A: One about diving sights in St. Maarten [the next family vacation for the certified diver].

Q: Most fun recent purchase?

A: Underwater camera and iPhone. I love my iPhone. It is just so neat.

Q: Your main self-indulgence?

A: Wine. I drink a lot of white wine casually, but when it is a nice evening or dinner, it has to be red.

Q: Your favorite wine?

A: Chateau Petrus, a Bordeaux.

Q: Least favorite thing about Pittsburgh?

A: Actually least favorite thing about Pennsylvania: Antiquated approach to selling liquor.

Q: Favorite thing about Pittsburgh?

A: It is a mid-sized city. Not too big or too small. There are great cultural outlets, yet you don't have a high crime rate. I can be 40 miles from here and be in a fly-fishing stream.

Q: Favorite TV cooking show?

A: "Iron Chef," "Hell's Kitchen." Chef [Gordon] Ramsay is a screamer. I think he does it for the camera. But he makes sense.

Q: Favorite TV shows you watch on your 52-inch TV?

A: "Entourage," "American Idol" with my daughter and "Boston Legal."

Q: How do you stay trim surrounded by food?

A: You have to watch it. I try to eat small quantities often, five or six times a day. I play soccer. I go to the gym.

Q: The perfect meal?

A: Smoked salmon starter. A nice piece of fish such as escolar or Dover sole. The perfect dessert -- tarte tatin, an upside down apple tart.

Q: The perfect weekend?

A: Going somewhere with my wife alone.

Q: Your hero?

A: I have more respect for my wife than anyone else. She is like the perfect mother and perfect wife. She never questioned anything. She was always patient and trusting. That meant a lot. There were times that were tough [when he owned the now-closed Asiago restaurant in Oxford Centre]. She never said, "You need to sell it."

Q: Your wife says your daughter Arielle is a mini Yves. Are you encouraging her to become a chef?

A: I would not be behind her, pushing and saying, "This is what you have to do." If she wants to do it, I will be respectful. But I want her to realize the sacrifices. Especially in your 20s, you are working when everyone else is out enjoying themselves.

Cristina Rouvalis can be reached at crouvalis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1572.


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