A Bistro in Northern California is celebrating its 10th Anniversary; the chef upholds the simplicity of French food

Cuisinett is a bistro cafe along the Peninsula just south of San Francisco in San Carlos, off of El Camino Real. Photo courtesy of Cuisinett

While the COVID-19 pandemic has hit small businesses hard, few can celebrate their 10th anniversary. Such is the circumstance with Cuisinett French Bistro, just off of El Camino Real in San Carlos. 

Owner, chef Geoffroy Raby explained, “I did not really plan anything specific for our 10th anniversary as it is a bit of a bittersweet moment. I am just grateful that we are still in business, and I am still able to employ some phenomenal employees.

Cuisinett owner, chef Geoffroy Raby believes that good French food doesn’t have to be expensive and is a food for the people. Photo courtesy of Cuisinett.

Of course, Raby’s road to the bistro goes back a bit farther than 2011. He came to the United States just for a visit. But he decided to stay and enrolled at San Francisco State University, studying marketing and business. To help fund his program at SF State University, Raby worked in local restaurants.

 As he told San Mateo Daily Journal, “I became tired of the stereotypes people had of French cuisine” he said. “What most Americans typically experience of French cooking is one style, but we also have everyday food.”

In terms of government and administration France has at least 13 regions. But just like any country or part of the world, France has a diverse range of cuisines. There’s a difference, for instance,between the Champagne, Lorraine, and Alsace regions. Just as, for example,there’s a difference between New England Clam Chowder on the East Coast of the United States and the unique Cajun flavor of Louisiana gumbo in the Deep South. 

A native of Lille, which is in the northern part of France, on the Belgium border, Raby is accustomed to down-to-earth, hearty food. 

In Lille, a beer would be served more oftenthan wine with a Flemish style stew. Fancy French names of various dishes to American ears is really just basic food. Raby knew this very well. Yet trying to convince the restaurants he knew and worked for of his idea for a bistro/diner was met with skepticism.

Since the onset of COVID-19, chef Geoffroy Raby and staff have worked to improve and make Cuisinett more adaptable to the changing times. Photo courtesy of Cuisinett

“‘There’s no way that’s going to work,’ people I presented my ideas to kept saying to me,” said Raby. Yet, that all changed when Raby brought his idea to Guillaume Bienaime, the chef at Marche, a French restaurant in nearby Menlo Park. 

Impressed by Raby’s enthusiasm, especially his ability to make French cuisine more affordable, Bienaime listened.

“I just wanted to bring back the neighborhood café that I grew up with in Lille, said Raby. A place where you can enjoy great food, beer and wine in a casual atmosphere.” Bienaime’s support and encouragement helped bring Raby’s concept to life. In 2011, Cuisinett debuted and has been a local haunt ever since. 

“The secret to chef Geoffroy’s success is just ‘keep it simple,’ said award-winning culinary travel writer Carole Bumpus. “I agree with Geoffroy, most people don’t realize that the essence of French cuisine is really simple food, or peasant food. In fact, I wrote about his home region near Lille and added recipes in my latest French culinary travel book, ‘Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table,’” Being a food for the people is just what Raby and his staff at Cuisinett are all about.

Culinary Travel author Carole Bumpus with chef Geoffroy Raby at his bistro ‘Cuisinett’ in San Carlos, CA. Photo courtesy of Carole Bumpus.

Building a ‘parklet’ to extend the outdoor seating wasn’t the only thing Raby has done to comply with pandemic protocols.“Covid has been brutal to my restaurant and to my industry as a whole, said Raby. Over the past year and a half, we adapted our business model from a Fast Casual restaurant to a French Bistro & Market. I updated the front of the restaurant with a French Market selling imported French goods as well as a Wine Retail. The Bistro part has also been a great success as we now offer full service at the table.”

The menu changes frequently and Raby continues to make the food high quality and affordable. “We are hopeful that business will increase and Cuisinett will continue to find a special spot in our community. We are happy to have survived the pandemic so far, said Raby. And we constantly look for new ways to improve our guest experience.” 

For those with experience and culinary talents, Cuisinett is looking for a line cook, server, and sous-chef. Located at 1105 San Carlos Ave, the main business corridor of San Carlos, is open for lunch from 12 Noon to 4:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday and open for dinner 4:00 to 8:00 PM. For more details and a list of the daily specials, visit the Cuisinett website.